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Creature Feature- The Lamb Of Tartary

Lamb of Tartary
Type Plants and Trees/ No Modern Sightings/ Mammals/ Misidentified
First Sighting 16th century
Last Sighting Unknown
Country Central Asia
Habitat Forests
Possible Population Unknown

The Lamb of Tartary, also known as The Vegetable Lamb of TartaryThe Scythian Lamb, and The Borometz, BorametzBarametz, Barometz (Agnus scythicus or Planta tartarica barometz) or simply Vegetable Lamb is a legendary zoophyte of Central Asia. It was believed to grow sheep as its fruit and that the sheep were connected to the plant by an umbilical cord.

In his book, The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary (1887), Henry Lee describes the legendary lamb as to be both a true animal and a living plant. However, he states that some writers believed the lamb to be the fruit of the plant, sprouting forward from melon-like seeds. Others, however, believed the lamb to be a living member of the plant that would perish if separated from it. The Vegetable Lamb was believed to have blood, bones, and flesh like that of a normal lamb. It was connected to the earth by a stem, similar to an umbilical cord, that propped the lamb up above ground. The stem could flex downward, allowing the lamb to feed on the grass and plants surrounding it. Once the plants within reach were eaten, the lamb died. Then, after expiring, the lamb became edible and its blood supposedly tasted sweet like honey. Its wool was said to be used by the native people of its homeland to make head coverings and other articles of clothing. The only carnivorous animals attracted to the lamb-plant (other than humans) were wolves. 

A similar creature is mentioned in Jewish folklore, as early as 436 AD, called the Yeduah. It was lamb-like in form and sprouted from a stem. The only way the lamb could be killed was by severing it from its stem. Once killed, the bones were used in divination and ceremonies. Another version of the legend tells of Jeduah; in this version, the Jeduah is highly aggressive, killing any being that wanders too close.

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (1357-1371) describes a plant that grows in Tartary that produces fruit resembling gourds. Once ripe, it is cut open to reveal what looks like a lamb, but devoid of wool. The fruit and lamb were then edible.

Gustav Schlegel cites the Chinese legend of the watersheep as inspiration for the Lamb of Tartary in his book The Shui-yang or Watersheep and The Agnus Scythicus or Vegetable Lamb (1892). The watersheep was thought to be both a plant and an animal, like the vegetable lamb. It had a stem that connected to the ground, and if the stem were severed, it died. The creature was surrounded by an enclosure that was guarded by men in armor who banged drums to ward off aggressors.

Sigismund von Herberstein, the ambassador of the Emperors Maximilian I and Charles V in 1517 and 1526, writes in his "Notes on Russia":

In the neighbourhood of the Caspian Sea, between the rivers Volga and Jaick, formerly dwelt the kings of the Zavolha, certain Tartars, in whose country is found a wonderful and almost incredible curiosity, of which Demetrius Danielovich, a person in high authority, gave me the following account; namely, that his father, who was once sent on an embassy by the Duke of Muscovy to the Tartar king of the country referred to, whilst he was there, saw and remarked, amongst other things, a certain seed like that of a melon, but rather rounder and longer, from which, when it was set in the earth, grew a plant resembling a lamb, and attaining to a height of about two and a half feet, and which was called in the language of the country 'Borametz', or 'the little Lamb.' It had a head, eyes, ears, and all other parts of the body, as a newly-born lamb. He also stated that it had an exceedingly soft wool, which was frequently used for the manufacturing of head-coverings. Many persons also affirmed to me that they had seen this wool. Further, he told me that this plant, if plant it should be called, had blood, but not true flesh: that, in place of flesh, it had a substance similar to the flesh of the crab, and that its hoofs were not horny, like those of a lamb, but of hairs brought together into the form of the divided hoof of a living lamb. It was rooted by the navel in the middle of the belly, and devoured the surrounding herbage and grass, and lived as long as that lasted; but when there was no more within its reach the stem withered, and the lamb died. It was of so excellent a flavour that it was the favourite food of wolves and other rapacious animals.

The Lamb of Tartary has inspired works of poetry. Erasmus Darwin writes in his poem, The Botanic Garden (1781):

E'en round the Pole the flames of love aspire,

And icy bosoms feel the secret fire,

Cradled in snow, and fanned by Arctic air,

Shines, gentle borametz, thy golden hair

Rooted in earth, each cloven foot descends,

And round and round her flexile neck she bends,

Crops the grey coral moss, and hoary thyme,

Or laps with rosy tongue the melting rime;

Eyes with mute tenderness her distant dam,

And seems to bleat – a vegetable lamb

In De la Croix's work Connubia Florum, Latino Carmine Demonstrata (1791), he writes (translated from Latin):

For in his path he sees a monstrous birth,

The Borametz arises from the earth

Upon a stalk is fixed a living brute,

A rooted plant bears quadruped for fruit,

…It is an animal that sleeps by day

And wakes at night, though rooted in the ground,

To feed on grass within its reach around.

Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas writes in his poem La Semaine (1587), wherein Adam wanders the Garden of Eden (translated by Joshua Sylvester from French):

But with true beasts, fast in the ground still sticking

Feeding on grass, and th' airy moisture licking,

Such as those Borametz in Scythia bred

Of slender seeds, and with green fodder fed;

Although their bodies, noses, mouths, and eyes,

Of new-yeaned lambs have full the form and guise,

And should be very lambs, save that for foot

Within the ground they fix a living root

Which at their navel grows, and dies that day

That they have browzed the neighboring grass away.

Oh! Wondrous nature of God only good,

The beast hath root, the plant hath flesh and blood.

The nimble plant can turn it to and fro,

The nummed beast can neither stir nor goe,

The plant is leafless, branchless, void of fruit,

The beast is lustless, sexless, fireless, mute:

The plant with plants his hungry paunch doth feede,

Th' admired beast is sowen a slender seed.

Cibotium barometz

Cibotium barometz, a possible origin for the Lamb of Tartary.


The Lamb of Tartary could be a misidentified Cibotium barometz (common name golden chicken fern or woolly fern), as its woolly rhizome, after its leaves are removed and it is turned upside down, resembles that of a lamb.

Cotton became an imported fiber during the late medieval period in northern Europe, with no knowledge of how it was derived, other than the fact that it is a plant. Hence, it is possible that the Lamb of Tartary is a fanciful rendition of the cotton plant.

In Popular Media[]

  • The Pokémon Whimsicott is based on the Lamb of Tartary.
  • In the manga Monsters Musume, Cott and Ton are portrayed as anthropormorphized Barometz.