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Umdhlebi

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Umdhlebii

Artist’s rendering of Umdhlebi by Jashawk

Umdhlebi ( also known as Umdhlebe or Umdhlebie) is an unverified plant species purported to originate in Zululand, South Africa. It was first reported in the journal Nature on November 2nd, 1882 by Reverend G. W. Parker, a missionary in South Africa.

The Umdhlebi was described as having large, fragile green leaves, and two layers of bark—a dead outer layer that hung off the tree, and a new living layer that grew beneath it. The fruit of the tree was reported to be red and black, and hung from branches like small poles. Parker said the Umdhlebi poisoned animals that approached so that the natural process of decay would fertilize the soil in which it was growing. The ground around it was often littered with skeletons. When damaged, it was reported to release a dangerously caustic fluid.

Symptoms of the tree's poison reportedly included headache and bloodshot eyes, severe pain, abdominal swelling, diarrhea, fever, followed by delirium and then death. Parker never identified the source or nature of its poison, but hypothesized that it secreted a poisonous gas from the soil around its roots. Callaway records a case in which a large number of people were fatally sickened after using umdhlebi wood as fuel for a cooking fire

According to Parker, Zulus sacrificed sheep and goats to the tree to calm the evil spirit. Unfortunately, as of 2013, no specimen of the Umdhlebi has ever been recovered, and other than 19th century anecdotal evidence no further verification is known to exist.

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