The Vegetable Lamb

One of the neatest things I saw this summer was the Vegetable Lamb at the Museum of Garden History in London. At first I didn’t know what I was looking at , as I’d not heard the story of the vegetable lamb before. The legend of the Vegetable Lamb goes back as far as the year 436, and it tells the tale of a plant that grew living lambs as if they were flowers. According to the legend, the lambs were able to bend down and eat the plants surrounding it and were thus able to feed themselves for a while. Once all the surrounding plants had been munched away, the poor little lambs shrivelled up and died, that is if they didn’t get devoured by a wolf first. Below is an image taken from Henry Lee’s 1887 book entitled The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary: a Curious Fable of the Cotton Plant, to Which Is Added a Sketch of the History of Cotton and the Cotton Trade.

The plant that prompted this legend is a type of fern, the Cibotium barometz. The root of the fern was often collected as “evidence” of the existence of the so-called vegetable lamb. The Museum of Garden history has one of these vegetable lamb roots, their particular specimen preserved under glass around the middle of the 19th century (see postcard photo below).

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