Main Library Forum Guestbook

PART TWO

THE PLANTS

THE TIRILLUS

The vast majority of parallel plants are found in isolation or in small groups that rarely exceed a dozen in number. The tirils, like the woodland sugartongs, are by nature gregarious and live in dense groups that sometimes cover large areas. Examples of this are found especially in the tundras of Ackerman's Land, not far from the Borioff Straits, where endless fields of tirils stretch as far as the eye can see, disappearing only into the frozen mist of the Arctic horizon.
Of all parallel flora the tiril has the widest and most varied (pl. X ) geographical distribution. From the Arctic tundras to the Peruvian Andes, from the Siberian steppes to the mesas of Patalonia, from the Omar Delta to the shores of the Gulf of Good Friends, scholars and travelers interested in botany have recorded the presence of Tirillus vulgaris and of its more aristocratic varieties: T. major, T. tigrinus (Fig. 12), and T. tihirlus extinctus (fossil variety).
Its modest form, as elemental as that of our grass, has been known since time immemorial, and was recorded as long as three thousand years ago on the petroglyphs of the Moqui Indians who lived on the Fremont River in Utih. Theocrastus mentions it in his "Rural Discourse" and a Mannonite manuscript cites the tiril as an example of perfect and peaceful communal life.
The Tirillus vulgaris or common tiril is the prototype of the species, measuring from 18 to 26 centimeters in height and approximately a centimeter thick. It lives in dense groups, sometimes with as many as four thousand individual plants to the square meter. Often the plants are so closely packed together that in preparallel conditions the sick plants found it impossible to wilt, and died in an erect posture, supported by their neighbors.
In parallel botany the tiril is the only species in which normal examples can be found next to petrified or fossilized specimens. At Ampu-Chichi in Peru, about ninety kilometers from the highest point of the Chimu-Pichu, the paleobotanist Edward H. Kinsington has discovered whole fields of fossilized tirils which apparently perished in some epidemic; all are in a perfect state of preservation, and all in a vertical position. "They look like fields of breadsticks," writes the Australian paleontologist, who as a young man lived for a while in Turin, attending Onofrio Pennisi's famous university courses in myopaleontology. He was therefore familiar with the Piedmontese grissini of that time, though in fact it was during the First World War, when flour was not of the best quality.
The "black" of the tiril is among the most colorful of all parallel plants. In the few tests that have been made with the Fersen chromometer, readings in F-vibrations from 82 F. to 112 F. have been obtained, which is a fairly considerable range if we come to think that the color of black plants is, basically, one and one only. These readings are not much lower than those obtained from the leaf of Frenemona taliensa, the most highly colored of all the parallel plants.
It may well be asked why we are not in possession of more accurate data on the color of a plant with such wide geographical distribution. There are many reasons for this: the bulk and weight of the chromometer, the uncontrollable variations in atmospheric pressure, the fluctuations of ozonoferous density. But the main reason, mentioned earlier, is the impossibility of moving the plants from one place to another. This difficulty exists not only for tirils, but for all parallel plants.
The Laboratorio delle Campora has carried out numerous experiments in the transport of these plants, but unfortunately none has yet met with success. However, Marcello Vanni, director of the laboratory, with the help of Valerio Tarquini, is at present perfecting a new type of pressurized equipment which it is hoped will produce positive results in the foreseeable future.
As regards the obstacles to habitat-exchange, we ought perhaps to repeat a few general observations. As a direct result of their matterlessness, parallel plants submit fairly gracefully to verbal description but are decidedly hostile to any method of documentation that threatens to duplicate what in them is mere appearance, especially through the medium of a false "reality" such as photography.

PLATE X. Tirilis

Fig. 12 Tirillus tigrinus and Tirillus bifurcatus

There have been innumerable unsuccessful attempts to photograph apparently accessible plants, even though the use of the most refined equipment seemed practically to guarantee success. Thus, except for these inclusions and s. few presumably direct casts, our chief sources of information are unfortunately verbal reports and three-dimensional reconstructions modeled either from memory or from drawings done from life.
All the same, the tiril is the best documented of all the parallel plants. Since 1972 the Tirillus Society of America has been informed of as many as eleven newly discovered beds, six of them in Central and South America, thanks to the expeditions of Kinsington and of Roger Lamont-Paquit of the Parabiology Institute of Cataras. Of the remainder, three are in Africa and two are in Siberia.
With the exception of T. bifurcatus (Fig. 12) of Jakruzia and the anomalous, autoparasitic specimens found by Karovsky on the Arkistan Plateau, all known varieties of tiril possess similar morphological characteristics. If they differ from the prototype T. vulgaris, it is more in behavior than in form. There is, it is true, the dwarf variety that is found on be edge of the Great African Rift, near Lake Kivu in Ruanda, but it is possible that we cannot perceive its true dimensions and that its behavior is similar to that of the Anaclea taludensis observed and studied by the Japanese biologist Kamikochi.
We here list the fourteen varieties of the prototype Tirillus vulgaris, together with the location where they were found (reprinted from the yearbook of the Tirillus Society of America).

T. odoratus Mexico Sierra Madre
T. silvador Peru Ampu-Chichi
T. oniricus Ecuador Cordillera Real
T. mimeticus Brazil Carima
T. tigrinus Argentina Quequa
T. parasiticus Brazil Rio Samona
T. tirillus Siberia Jakruzia
T. tundrosus Alaska Helmutland
T. major Pacific Western Patagonia
T. omarensis Asia Omar Delta
T. tihirlus extinctus Iran Sarab Bainah
T. minimus Ruanda Lake Kivu
T. bifurcatus Siberia Jakruzia
T. bulbosus Germany Bavaria

Tirillus oniricus

T. oniricus was first discovered in Ecuador by the American poet John Kerry ("Solitary John")1, who passed on the information to his biologist friend Roger Lamont-Paquit2 when he learned about the research which the latter was carrying out in the field of parallel botany. It is to this French scientist that we owe all our documentation of this strange plant, the fruit of long and patient study during his expeditions along the Cordillera Real. On the Cucuta Plateau, at the foot of the great volcano Chimborazo, he found the little colonies of tirils described by Kerry, hidden amidst the endless stretches of Ostunia fluensis (theboho of the Javaros Indians). Theboho produces the black and perfectly triangular seeds which Indian children use for playing salari, a game which in recent years has become quite popular in Scandinavia in a colored plastic version

Fig. 13 The Ostunia fluensis and its seeds (above) and the game of Skaap-Skaap

called Skaap-Skaap (Fig. 13). Lamont-Paquit tried to photograph the tirils of Ecuador with a special Roemsen lens from a distance of one kilometer, but unfortunately where the tirils should be the photo shows only a white blur.
T. oniricus seems to all appearances a normal tiril, no taller or more robust than its more common and accessible brethren. The disquieting feature of this plant is that its image apparently lodges in some yet unknown corner of the memory, where at irregular intervals it makes its presence felt. After Lamont-Paquit first saw a field of these tirils he suffered from a strange malaise that he at first put down to the effect of the altitude. He sat down on a boulder, expecting to recover, but the image of the plants continued to recur, to flood into his mind in an almost stroboscopic sequence, but at unpredictable intervals. When he succeeded in directing his thoughts to other memories, even in the distant past, everything became normal again and the strange feeling suddenly vanished. Gradually he learned to control the phenomenon, forcing himself to think first of the tirils and then of something else, thus controlling also the sensation of slight dizziness that always accompanied the appearance of the mental image of the plants.
The neurologist Theodor Kinderstein, noted for his experiments with hallucinogenic substances, worked for some time with Lamont-Paquit. In his opinion, the phenomenon is similar to that produced by the bombardment of the retina with the rays of a flame obtained by burning Toxcaline. It seems that T. oniricus has this characteristic, fortunately rare in nature, caused by occasional fractures in the light waves that emanate indirectly from its surface. The resulting intermittent appearance of the image in the memory has not so far been satisfactorily explained. Lamont-Paquit, who has undergone numerous neurocephalic tests it the Institute of Neurology at Lyons, has learned not to remember the Tirillus oniricus which he discovered, for strictly preestablished periods of time. In this he has been greatly aided by the Indian guru Ajit Barahanji, who has given him exercises in mental deconcentration and selective dethinking.

Tirillus mimeticus

As parallel plants-unlike their sisters on this side of the hedge -(we resort to Dulieu's memorable phrase)-are not cursed with conflicts and struggles for survival, it is difficult to understand how it came about that on Carima island in the estuary of the Rio de las Almas there should be a tiril so perfectly camouflaged that to all intents and purposes it is invisible. Lamont-Paquit, who discovered T. oniricus in Ecuador, describes T. mimeticus as slightly shorter than the average for normal tirils (about twelve centimeters), but having the same diameter. It is regular in form, without scent, and has a smooth mat surface. It lives in small family groups of not more than sixteen individuals, maintaining a constant distance of three centimeters from its nearest relatives. Lamont-Paquit gives us this information as pure deduction, because the plant is so perfectly camouflaged in its habitat of black volcanic pebbles that it is not discernible by normal visual means.

Fig. 14 Tirillus mimeticus and stones

Lamont-Paquit was told about this tiril by the Indians of Quahac, not far from Carima and the only island of the archipelago still inhabited. Late one summer afternoon he was taken to Carima by the shaman and a number of young Indians, and there he was shown a group of tirils which in the red light of the sunset ought to have revealed some vestiges of form. But the biologist saw nothing. With the help of the Indians he thought he succeeded in touching a few plants, which surprised him very much, in view of the well-known vulnerability of all parallel plants to the human touch. He took a vast number of photographs using different lenses and types of film, and unlike that of his photographic misadventures in Ecuador the result was, in a sense, positive. In the enlargements one can clearly see every detail of the rounded stones and of what must be the T. mimeticus, though so far it has not proved possible to tell the one from the other (Fig. 34).
In reply to Lamont-Paquit's questions on the matter, the Indians provided a mythological explanation of the phenomenon. When a shaman dies, they said, his soul lives into the waters of the estuary and swims under water to the islet of Carima. There it emerges and stands invisible among the stones, watching the actions of its living brethren; When an Okono is tempted to commit a sin of violence, the soul-tiril (Tu'i-sa) shoots an arrow that wounds the guilty one, punishing him with fever, pains, and vomiting. In point of fact the Okono never confess their bodily pains, for fear that they might be revealing secret desires for violence. When they are ill these peace-loving Indians hide away and suiter in silence, and when the breeze is blowing in the direction of Carima they propitiate the vengeful souls by making little boats out of dried Saklam leaves, filling them with colored feathers and Cufola seeds, and sailing them off toward the isle of the tirils. (pl. XI)
During his last visit to the island of Carima, Lamont-Paquit saw a small flotilla of these tiny boats arrive on the beach. Fearing that a wave of violence or an epidemic had struck the neighboring island, the scientist packed his bags and left in a hurry.

PL.XI Propitiatory leaf-boat of the Okono Indians

Tirillus parasiticus

The parasitic tiril grows on dead tree trunks and branches in certain (pl. XII) tropical forests. Of normal shape and size, it differs from other kinds of tiril mainly in the composition of the groups. The plants are in fact arranged in line a few centimeters one from another, and there is always an odd number in each group. The groups are therefore symmetrical, and this feature is often accentuated by the central tiril being taller than the rest.
These tirils are not true parasites. The term parasite is derived from the Greek para (beside) and sitos (food), and implies the exploitation of the conditions or qualities of others for one's own survival. This clearly does not apply to plants whose existence is independent of relations with other organisms or with the environment, and whose life cycle, if we can use such a term, occurs in a motionless time which ensures the permanence of their bodily forms.
The name "parasitic tiril" was used to describe these plants by Jacob Scheinbach of Hanover University, who certainly had no idea of the misunderstanding this unintentional baptism would create. Scheinbach discovered the plants during an expedition through the Brazilian forests in the region of the Rio Samona, and in a letter to his colleague Metzen he used the word parasite to simplify what would otherwise have been a rather lengthy description: "Yesterday I saw a plant rather like an asparagus, smooth and of an indefinite dark color with bronze lights. It was growing, apparently, on the bark of fallen trunks and large dead branches. It is clearly a type of parasitic tiril. Not being able for obvious reasons to touch the plants, I made a few drawings which I've sent to Jack for publication. These tirils look perfectly normal to me, but my dear Metzen, how on earth are we to explain their presence on what is the biodegradable base par excellence, a trunk that in a tropical forest is bound to be rotted by damp and insect damage within a matter of months? What happens when a parallel plant, by nature indifferent to the passing of time, entrusts its destiny to such precarious conditions? The credibility of all our scientific work over the last five years is in jeopardy unless we can find a clear answer to this disturbing question."
On his return from Brazil, Scheinbach started a series of experiments to find plausible connections not only between the two botanies but between the kinds of time that in such totally different ways condition the existence of parallel plants and common plants. These experiments are still going on, but it is generally agreed that they have small hopes of success.

PL. XII Parasitic tirils

Tirillus odoratus

We know that the luster of parallel plants is often increased by the adherence to them of a kind of wax, a colorless substance known as emyphyllene. This substance is usually without scent, but exceptions to this rule occur in the case of certain varieties of Giraluna and in that of the Tirillus odoratus of the Mexican Sierra Madre. The Machole Indians think this property is responsible for the hallucinatory effects that have recently been studied by a team of neurologists led by Carlos Manchez.
T. odoratus is found in the mountains of the northern part of the Sierra Madre. It is a rare plant, especially as its habitat is among the exposed roots of Olindus presiitanus, a tree well on its way to extinction throughout the American continent. The tiril is quite small, scarcely ever over twelve centimeters in height, and is almost black. As it is always found in shadow, it is practically invisible. In the first ten days of April the infinitesimally fine layer of emyphyllene develops a strong sour-sweet smell which has an aphrodisiac effect on the young Macholes, producing violent reactions which have now become completely ritualized.
The Macholes bear a close physical and cultural resemblance to the Huicholes, who live on the eastern slopes of the Sierra. It is thought that the two tribes were originally a single group and that they came to be divided by the misfortunes of war at the time of the Spanish Conquest. The Huicholes are known for the march of the peyoteros, an annual ritual the purpose of which is to gather peyote, a mushroom rich in mescaline. It is not improbable that the march of the Macholes to gather the T. odoratus has its origins in the famous march of the peyoteros, or vice versa; the latter, incidentally, is the coveted goal of certain foreign devotees, who arrive from all parts of the world during the short peyote season.
Some scholars are of the opinion that the behavior of the Macholes is not due to emyphyllene at all, but rather to a phenomenon of collective suggestion arising from cultural motives that assign a symbolic and almost tantric value and meaning to the perfumed tiril. But Manchez, though admitting that the wax does not appear to contain any known hallucinatory substances, not only attributes the powerful aphrodisiac effect to it but also thinks that it provides the explanation of a particular conundrum facing students of this plant: I refer to the fact that the tirils allow themselves to be picked and carried away, even though during a very brief period each year.
Be this as it may, on the first day of April the Macholes from the scattered mountain communities, scarcely more than a hundred of them, gather in the village of Taichatlpec-which consists of a dozen wretched hovels roughly constructed of mud and cane-and there the march begins. The young women, who have also come in from the other settlements, retire into the great ceremonial hut known as the cheptol. This primicive gynaeceum, which is taboo for men, is usually reserved for menstruants, women about to deliver, and the young girls of the tribe for their initiation ceremonies. It stands about three hundred meters from the cluster of hovels that is Taichatlpec. For this occasion the young girls decorate the cheptol with tissue-paper streamers of many colors, while the old women, in a ceremony that goes on for most of the night, shut the door of the great hut and seal it from the outside with the gummy resin of the manteca (buttertree). The Machole women remain sealed up in the cheptol for three days, during the whole of the march of the tirilleros, and for all this time they neither sleep nor eat. They sing in low voices almost ceaselessly and anoint their bodies with the oily and pleasant-scented juice of the tlac fruit, a large earthenware jar of which stands in the middle of the hut, which otherwise is completely empty.
As soon as the first tiril is found in the shadow of an Olindus, the tirillerosbegin a kind of march-cum-dance which gradually mounts to a frenetic rhythm and is keat up nonstop for three days and nights. As the plants are picked they are handed from one tirillero to another so that everyone can inhale the scent deeply. At midday on the second day, when sexual excitement has reached a peak of erotic hysteria, the men begin their journey back, still dancing, singing, and calling on the god Aktapetl.
Holding the tirils high above their heads, they gather in front of the cheptol. At a sign from the shaman, who alone has the divine authority to break the taboo, six tirilleros known as "tlocoles" hack down the frail rush door with machetes, and the horde of tirilleros pours into the cheptol. The orgy that follows may well last as long as the march, for two or three days. It has been described by John Meesters, perhaps the only traveler who has been present at this extraordinary event, though even he observed it only through a chink in the back wall of the cheptol.
Meesters arrived at Taichatlpec by chance, just as the tlocoles were on the point of breaking down the door of the cheptol. He was accompanied by a young Huichol Indian guide. Taking advantage of the excitement of the mob in front of the cabin, Meesters succeeded in tethering his horses in a nearly wood and hiding, with his young guide, at the back of the building. There they stayed for most of the night, then made off before dawn for fear of being discovered. Until sunset they could make out what was going on inside, if only rather vaguely, since there was no light except the sunlight that came in through the small doorway. Later on they were able only to hear the noise of body movements, groans, and every now and then a collective chant.
The young Huichol, who had studied at the Indian Affairs Center at Guadalajara, was later able to explain to the ethnologist the meaning of what he had witnessed. He told him that the Macholes have a generally quiet family and community life based, surprisingly enough, on monogamy but not on patriarchal power. The function of the orgy caused by the Tirillus odoratus is that of institutionalizing an occasion of total sexual promiscuity, and in such a way that the children conceived during those days are not attributable to a specific father. Instead, they grow up without the dominance of a father-owner end are lovingly cared for by the whole community. In the Machole tribe this system has eliminated not only the well-known neuroses due to father-son relationships, but also inheritance and private property. This has happened also among the Huicholes, but for quite different reasons.

Tirillus silvador

South of Lake Titicaca on the plateau of the western Cordilleras of Peru, where our own domestic potato first grew, there are a number of plants which thrive in spite of the altitude and are of prime importance to the diet of the Indians. Such are the oca (Oxalis tuberosa), the ullucu (Ullucus tuberosus), and the quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). In the barren areas some hundreds of meters above the natural limits of these plants there are patches of tirils, of the variety T. silvador, which on account of their strange behavior have been attracting the attention of scientists for some years.
In general appearance these Andean tirils are not very different from other varieties recorded here and there in the remoter regions of the earth. Averaging some twenty centimeters in height, they live pressed together in dense colonies. Their color is that of the classic tiril: dark gray with bronze lights. They are without scent and have not changed their distribution or habitat within human memory. For some unknown atavistic reason the Indians do not touch them, and even the llamas passing near them on their way from one pasture to another are very careful not to step on them.
The extraordinary and so far unexplained feature of these little plants is that on clear nights in January and February some of them seem to emit shrill whistling sounds that are perfectly audible two or three hundred meters away. The sound is similar to that of the song cricket native to the Cordilleras, and many Indians believe that the crickets hide among the tirils. Their belief is strengthened by the fact that, like the crickets song, the whistle of the tiril stops as soon as anyone approaches the place where it seems to be coming from. But experiments have shown that the cricket could not survive above 3,500 meters, while the tirils are located at 5,000 meters above sea level, or even more. Jose Torres Lasuego of the University of Chaluco, who has made a number of expeditions into the area, has studied the problem thoroughly without being able to give any proper explanation. Thousands of plants have been examined, but none has revealed any morphological anomaly that might in any way allow for the production of sound. The hypothesis of "draft strips," intermittent gusts of wind that cause certain strategically placed plants to vibrate, seemed at first to have some plausible basis, but careful experiments have shown it to be as unfounded as all others. Torres put forward the idea that certain individual plants were gifted with the ability to produce sound, and that this had the specific defensive function of keeping the llamas away. He did in fact notice that when a llama approaches the plants the whistling sound increases in pitch, while the animals, though skirting the very edge of a bed of tirils, appear to take great care not to step on them. However, it was later discovered that there was no connection between the two phenomena. The length of the sound wave of the whistle of T. silvador was found to be 12,000 melodin (A.S.I. system), while we know that the llama, like others of the camel family, cannot pick up vibrations above 9,000 melodin.
Torres's team installed a series of minimicrophones along the edge of several tiril beds and made many hours of recordings, which unfortunately have only documentary value. However, this capable Peruvian scientist is said to be row completing work on an instrument able to fix the exact point of emission of the mysterious whistling sounds. He hopes that this may lead to the identification of the plants responsible for the sounds, which is a necessary first step toward any adequate explanation of the phenomenon.
The Aymara Indians, who are native to the Sierra, have numerous fables and legends in which these whistling tirils figure as heroes. One of these in particular is known throughout Peru in the form of a corrido (popular song), the origins of which go back to the Spanish Conquest. Until a few years ago the words of the song were attributed to Manuel Gonzales Prada (1848-99), the poet, essayist, and radical philosopher, but the musicologist Jose Manuel Segura has traced a manuscript dating from 1830, only six years after the Battle of Ayacucho (December 1824) in which Captain Sucre, with the aid of Bolivar, ensured the independence of Peru from the Spanish crown. The corrido tells the story of a patrol of Spanish soldiers, under the command of the notorious Captain Malegro, engaged in a search for Manolo Perchuc, a young Indian accused of having killed a dozen conquistadores with his cachupote. The young man had hidden in a cabin in the high Sierra, but he was betrayed by a jealous woman. One night the Spanish patrol advanced cautiously upon the cabin, which happened to be surrounded by patches of T. silvador. Suddenly, from every direction, came piercing whistles. The Spaniards thought they had been caught in an ambush and ran. Believing that the girl had betrayed them, they condemned her to death.


1. An American poet of the school gravitating around the City Lights Bookshop in San Francisco. He has traveled widely in Central and South America collecting drug-bearing plants. He has published a collection of poems and stories (Pot and Peyote') and a short autobiographical novel (Who? Me?).

2. Roger Lamont-Paquit, French botanist, formerly lecturer in tropical botany at Lyons University. Since 1971 he has devoted himself entirely to the discovery and identification of parallel plants in South America.


THE WOODLAND TWEEZERS

The woodland tweezers, like the tirils, are social plants. They live in the shade of the Manengo trees in the jungles of Indonesia, under the Kieselbaume of the Black Forest and between the roots of the ben trees of Tetsugaharajima, in colonies which sometimes exceed a hundred individual plants. The most casual glance at these plants leaves no doubt as to how they got their name. (pl. XIII) Two winglike leaves, much like those of the crassulae species of Sugartongs, are symmetrically opposed in a gesture of rare elegance. With few exceptions, their slightly rounded tips always curl outward. Less basic then the tirils, the woodland tweezers are nevertheless fairly simple plants which in form have a good deal in common with normal plants growing in the underbrush, and it is only recently that botanists have become aware of their existence. As with many other parallel plants, they cannot be moved from one place to another. They turn to dust at the least contact with any object not native to their normal ecological surroundings, and only in a few cases has it proved possible to encase them in instant-drying polyephymerol. They are deep, dull black in color, rather like the tirils, and in the underbrush they are often hard to see against the shadows of the tree trunks. Sometimes this color is relieved by faint bronze lights due to the coat of wax that veils the outer surface of the leaves.
Professor Uchigaki Sutekichi, who holds the chair of sociobotany at Tokyo University, has published a number of papers on the supposed sociability of the woodland tweezers and the tirils, putting forward ideas that at first might appear arbitrary or even fantastic, but which are in fact worth serious consideration. Uchigaki thinks that the distribution of the tweezers as we see it today is the final result of an intricate series of maneuvers aimed at the conquest of territory, and that these maneuvers bear the most extraordinary resemblance to the moves of the game of Go. He says that the woodland tweezers were originally sprouts from a complex rootstock that was interwoven with the roots of the ben tree, a huge sper-matophyte which grows only in the forests of the island of Tetsugaharajima. This rootstock was lice a subterranean mind, planning and storing the program for the gradual future distribution of the shoots, putting the program into action, and controlling its various phases. Strategic decisions which obeyed exact orthogenetic laws, but which simulated a fierce struggle for survival, led in the end to a kind of status quo, without winners or losers. Having abandoned the illusion of self-determination and relinquished their fake weapons, the individual plants ended by living a monotonous community life, like aged veterans. It is in this last phase of the game that Uchigaki thinks he can detect the moment of mutation to parallel botany. The exhaustion of the energies which once promised to wrest from time and space some existential meaning for the individual was consecrated in a collective immobilization. The fragile system that had seemed to derive its ephemeral modes from the inevitably mistaken answers to meaningless questions was thus replaced by the timeless certainties which only a parallel condition could promise. Uchigaki traces what he takes to be the history of a specific colony of tweezers, drawing a parallel with a famous game of Go played many years ago by the two celebrated champions Sharaku and Ugome.
Uchigaki's ingenious tour de force produced much excitement in Japanese scientific circles, but do not fail to cause some perplexity among his Western colleagues.
The game of Go was introduced into Japan by the Chinese legate Yen Ta-yao during the Heiryu period, and more specifically in the reign of the Emperor Shohei. It was soon taken up with enthusiasm by the Japanese aristocracy, and in the course of time became the Japanese national game. Go is thought to be the world's most ancient game, the invention of which is usually credited to the Chinese emperor Shu, who reigned at the beginning of the third millennium before Christ. It is said that he thought it up to stimulate the mind of his eldest son Wing Wen, but it is a good deal more likely that the old monarch, by studying the moves of the ishi, was attempting to give a form to the precepts of the cult of Hsu-ch'uan,

PL. XIII Woodland tweezers

of which he was a devoted adherent. According to the Hsu-ch'uan doctrine, every action in life should consciously tend toward a moment of final stasis, the so-called Ta-heng, which in the ritual wrestling known as Shou-hsi represents the ultimate inextricable mutual immobilization of the wrestlers, the impasse at which the resignation of the potential winner is in perfect balance with that of the probable loser.
The Ta-heng can be arrived at by a process of meditation called Chen-szu-liang, in which thought is represented by a pendulum which swings from question to answer and from this, reformulated as a question, to a further answer or else to a paralyzing series of choices of priority in the everyday acts of life. It was to shed light on this second process, called Ta-ztang-hsi, that the emperor Shu is supposed to have invented the rules of Go, in which Uchigaki thinks he has been able to detect the sociobotanical structure of the colonies of woodland tweezers.
The game in fact consists of a number of strategic choices of position (moku), the aim of which is to conquer territory on the Go board and to prevent one's opponent from doing so. With incredible determination and patience, Uchigaki compared the arrangement of the tweezers found by Sugino Kinichi a few years previously in the forest of Owari with the final position, the Ta-heng, in a game of Go, and by working backward went on to establish every move in the game. Thus following the course of the game he was able to trace the sequence in which the plants of the group had sprouted and to demonstrate that it had obeyed precise rules which were very similar to those of Go and had a development which, as he had suspected, was practically identical with the memorable match played by Sharaku and Ugome (Figs. 15 and 16).
Uchigaki's insistence on the comparison between the distribution of the shoots in the Owari group aid the moves in a particular game of Go clearly shows leanings toward mystical and aesthetic aspirations which are quite alien to the Western scientific mind. All the same, we are bound to admit that the idea of a generating rootstock that creates and executes genetic programs has at least the merit of originality. Further weight is added to the theory by the consideration, mentioned by Uchigaki, that because plants cannot move around like animals their choice of location is always definitive and must be the result of a strategy in which all individual struggles have collective immobility as their final aim.

Fig. 15 The Ta-heng position in a game of Go played by Sharaku and Ugome

A bronze facsimile of the Owari group of woodland tweezers may be seen in the Imperial Natural History Museum in Tokyo. It forms the centerpiece in the largest room in the new wing entirely devoted to parallel botany. Around it are eight go ban made of icho (Salisburia adiantifolia): low tables with legs fashioned in imitation of the fruit of the kuchinashi. Now, kuchinashi is the name for Gardenia floribunda, but in Japanese it also means "mouthless," and is a warning to the spectators to remain silent while the games of Go are in progress.
It is in the Tweezers Room in the Museum that the National Go Championships have been played for the last few years, and it is by no means rare to see players, dressed in the traditional kimono, repeating move for move the game that was played thousands of years ago under the giant ben tree, and that in a final botanical Ta-heng was miraculously preserved intact down to our own times.

Fig. 16 The distribution of woodland tweezers at Owari

THE TUBOLARA

I have often mentioned the matterlessness of parallel plants, drawing attention not only to their entire lack of organs but, also to the fact that they have no real interior. Oskar Halbstein extends this notion, typical of parallel botany, to everything in the world, observing that the interior of material objects is nothing but a mental image, an idea. He pours out that when we cut something in two we do not reveal its interior, as we set out to do, but rather two visible exteriors which did not exist before. Repeating the action an infinite number of times, we would merely produce an endless series of new exteriors. For Halbstein the inside of things does not exist. It is a theoretical construct, a hypothesis which we are forbidden to verify.
The interior of parallel plants, moreover, eludes even theoretical definition. As we are concerned with a substance that is totally "other," that cannot be found in nature, it is literally unthinkable. Halbstein speaks of it as being of a "blind color," but to me it seems arbitrary and scientifically risky to draw even the most openly poetic comparisons with the normal world. (pl. XIV)
The Tubolara, which for the most part are found on the Central Plateau of Talistan in India, put the problem of the interior of parallel plants in a new and rather different light. It concerns not so much their matterlessness as their form, not so much the solid interior of their ambiguous substance as the hollow exterior- which, in a sense, is the external limit of the interior of the plant.
Here then is the paradox of the Tubolara: two interiors, one of which in normal terms would be its substance and which at bottom is responsible for its presence, is imperceptible, while the one we

PL. XIX Tubolara

would normally be inclined to think of as nonexistent, the void contained by the plant, is visible. The paradox is even greater when we think that the void within the tube, the visible interior, has a very precise function: that of containing, like a fragment of its own habitat, part of the environment in which the plant itself is contained.
In the Tantra the Tubolara represents the coexistence in time and space of the feminine and masculine principles.1 It is lingam (male organ) and yoni (vulva), and as the physical union of man and woman it symbolizes the essence of created things. In the temples of Talistan, along with the statues of Krishna and Vishnu, we often see stylized representations of the Tubolara carved out of stone. Before the great temple of Shalampur there is one that is seven meters high, and as no one had ever been able to look at it from above it had for many years been taken for a lingam. It was only recently that some workmen who had climbed up to repair the temple roof were amazed to fine that the pillar was hollow. As a result of this discovery, the ceremony of Kalata, which takes place before the sowing of the seed and used to culminate in the decoration of the supposed lingam, has had to be radically altered. At the end of the puja the officiating guru now climbs a shaky bamboo ladder and drops rice and flowers into the immense stone tube, the biggest Tubolara in the world.
In the jungles of Tampur in northern Rajastan there is a variety of Tubolaraconsiderably smaller than that of Talistan. For the local inhabitants it is taboo. Ramesh Sishtra thinks that this taboo originated in the belief that the darkness inside the plants represents the dark night of death, populated by white bats which seize the bodies of the dead in order to devour their intestines. This talented Indian ethnologist supports his theory by pointing out that the Tubolara of Tampur are favorite haunts of Qidoptera fenestralis, a tiny white moth which can be vaguely seen fluttering in the darkness of the plants, transforming them into an "other world" that is no less threatening for being so small.


1. Note suppressed.


THE CAMPORANA

The Camporana or kite-plant is known in different parts of the world under a variety of names. In Ecuador it is called cuavenco, like the kite-hero of the Aymol legend. In Haiti it is the leaf taihaque, a name of African origin. In Dahomey and the Upper Volta, where it must have grown in great profusion until the vast migrations of the Okuna (at which time it became parallel on pl. xv the very verge of extinction), the Camporana is known in Fon and Korumba mythology by the name of tiale.
The Camporana is a monofoliate plant consisting of two main parts: the sheathed fustis and the limb. Two varieties are known, C. erecta and C. reclinatus. The former stand upright in the earth, supported by the sheath around the long stem, while the latter lie on the ground like a fallen leaf. In both types the central vein of the leaf is simply a continuation of the stem, a large pedicel which penetrates the limb, divides into two or three branches, and tapers away to nothing toward the edge of the leaf. In the case of C. reclinatus it is especially pronounced where the leaf rests on the earth, often presenting protuberances known as "root bosses" which are, in fact, probably rudimentary roots. The limb of the Camporana is usually reniform and is small in comparison with the stem. From some distance away, the plant sometimes reminds us of the ceremonial fans (flabella) which used to be placed on either side of the thrones of Eastern potentates and that even today flank the Pope's gestatorial chair. The leaf itself is thin only at the edges, which are often indented. It swells to considerable thickness toward the middle, but thins down again in the immediate vicinity of the central vein. James Forbes is of the opinion that before its parallelization the swelling of the Camporana leaf contained a complete system of internal veins. According to this English ethnologist, to whom we owe much of our knowledge of the Camporana, the small excrescences visible on the leaf bear witness to an unsuccessful attempt by the vein system to become external.

PL. XV Camporana

The overall height of the Camporana varies from 35 to 190 centimeters, but specimens of C. Reclinatus seldom exceed a meter. During an expedition in the Upper Volta, Forbes succeeded in photographing one 135 centimeters high in which the outlines of a face had been cut. The plant was at least seven hundred years old, and from the local Korumba tribe Forbes heard several legends that appeared to confirm his hypothesis that it exercised a totemistic function.
Of particular interest is the cosmogenetic myth of the tiale which tells of a tree that grew near the source of the River Dwon. This tree had thirty-seven huge leaves, and belonged to the Leopard. Now there was nothing more precious in the whole world, for the Leopard had only to touch one of the leaves with his tongue and whatever he wished for would appear by magic. Over the years the Leopard had wished for Moibu, the snake who is coiled round all the islands, and the clouds that give rain, and the turtles of the earth, and even Keple the great spider. But the Leopard was old, and one day he felt death approaching. What was he to do with his tree? He went to ask advice from Tok the Hare, who could talk better than other animals because of the split in his lip. "What should I do with the tiale?" he asked. Tok advised the Leopard to give it to his sons before he died. But the Leopard asked: "How can I divide the leaves between my twelve sons?" "Kill one of your sons, or two or three," replied Tok, "until you can divide the leaves equally among those that remain." But the Leopard redized that this was not possible: he did not succeed in dividing the thirty-seven leaves by any number whatsoever. He asked advice from the Ant, but the Ant could not find an answer. He asked the Turtle, and Twembo the Serpent, and even the God Nawaki, but none of them could find an answer. Then the Leopard went to Tso the Caterpillar, and Tso said: "Take me to the tree tiale." He climbed onto the Leopard's tail and was carried there. He set to work at once and ate one leaf.1 Now the Leopard could give three leaves to each of his sons and die in peace. Tso the Caterpillar went down to the River Dwon and there he excreted the remains of the tiale leaf. When the river saw the excretion it licked it with a wavelet, and lo, in the midst of the waters there was a canoe, and in the canoe were Kwep and Lamu, and from them sprang all the sons of the Korumba people.
James Forbes, whose great love is botany but who is by profession an ethnologist, has made an interesting observation on this myth, which is the origin of the totem tiale. "It is no mere coincidence," he says, "that the myth is based on a prime number, which is a fairly sophisticated concept. Of all African peoples, the Korumba are the best versed in arithmetic, as can be seen from their game of twam-ha-rd, which is played with a hundred and eight pebbles, each with a different numerical value."
African mythology has survived in the voodoo cults of the black tribes of Central America and Brazil. In Haiti and elsewhere in the West Indies, where the myths of the Ivory Coast have been preserved with greater purity, the tree taihaque figures as the divine instrument for the creation of all living things. According to legend, this immense tree stood on the cloud called Waiko and bore fruit containing the plants and animals, the fishes and the birds, the turtles, and also man and woman. When the God Nyambe had finished making the great ocean, and all the islands that float in it, according to the Haitian legend, he shook the taihaque with mighty strength and the ripe fruits fell to earth and split open, setting free the creatures who had matured inside them. When all the fruits had fallen, Nyambe took it into his head to send the angels to inspect the results of his work. He put each of them on a leaf and shook the tree once more. The leaves fluttered earthward like so many butterflies. The angels made sure that all was well, but when they were about to return into the heavens men begged Nyambe to let the angels stay with them. The God allowed the twelve angels to remain on earth and watch over the happiness of men. The angels planted their leaves stem downwards in the earth, to keep them alive in case Nyambe should ever recall them to heaven. When white men came with guns and forced the Wafonga people into slavery, Nyambe recalled the angels to his side. On Mount Wabika in Dahomey there are twelve holes: they were left by the angels when they tore up the taihaque leaves from the ground.
In his book on African myths published more than thirty years before the discovery of parallel botany, Vobenius sees the taihaque leaf as a huge monofoliar plant which actually existed in Dahomey and probably became extinct in the middle of the seventeenth century, at the time of the worst incirsions of the French slave-traders.
He could not have known the true nature of the plant, but he guessed at its exceptional importance, and thought it possible that the voodoo version of the ancient myth represented, in its conclusion, the destruction of the African cult objects by the French. Uncertain whether to accept the hypothesis of a real plant or that of a cult object, the great German ethnologist unknowingly touched the fringes of the new botany and even appeared, though only in an ethnological context, to recognize the Camporana africana.

Fig. 17 The behin of Fra Girolimo di Gusme, from a contemporary print

The distribution of the "root bosses" on the leaf of the Camporana was studied by medieval alchemists and sorcerers. It is from their writings, which are sometimes extremely enigmatic, that we learn of the existence of the plant in not so remote times. In the Ziharmi we read: "All things come to pass down there as they do up here. The figures formed by stars and planets reveal things hidden and mysteries most profound. In the selfsame way on the skin of the behin leaf there are bosses which are the stars of the plant." The sorcerers examined thousands and thousands of leaves in the hope of prophetic signs, and wandered endlessly through the forests in search of the legendary leaf. Fra Girolamo di Gusme, alchemist and teacher of celestial sciences, left us a series of diagrams illustrating the spots of the leopard and the distribution of moles on the human body. Among them, however, is a drawing of a leaf that is without the least doubt a Camporana (Fig. 17). In it the position of the bosses is shown in relation to the heavens and to the signs of the Zodiac. "He who finds the behin may learn his own fate," declares Fra Girolamo, adding that according to whether the bosses are on the right or the left of the leaf they refer to good and lucky events or to bad and unlucky ones. What the worthy Friar neglected to tell us is which is the front of the leaf and which is the back, so that we can never be sure of knowing the right from the left. A further complication is that when the woodcuts were printed from the original drawings they were in ill probability reversed, though we are not one hundred percent certain of this. It therefore comes about that in the unlikely event of anyone stumbling across a behin leaf in some distant forest, we can at least be sure that knowledge of his fate and future would fortunately be denied him.
In the Jardins Publiques of Ouagadougou, capital of the one-time French colony of Upper Volta, there is a marvelous little octagonal cast-iron conservatory attributed to Eiffel. The decoration was added later, during the art nouveau period, and the intricate floral motifs so typical of this style interweave with the real plants visible through the dusty panes of glass.

PL. XVI Camporana menorea

In this conservatory are all sorts of plants typical of the hinterland of the Ivory Coast, and especially those which grow along the three upper branches of the River Volta-the Black, the Red and White, and the Oti. In one corner there is a group of bronzes donated to the colony in 1908 by Jean Philippe Audois, governor of the territories which now form the state of Togo. Audois, who like many French bureaucrats of the time was also a naturalist and a fairly good minor poet, wrote of the "anciennes audaces de plantes solitaires / negres botaniques d'herbaires silencieux / noyes dans le temps d'un fleuve phantom." The words ancient, solitary, black, silent, and phantom form a verbal chain which leaves no doubt that the plants he was describing were parallel plants which centuries before had flourished along the banks of the great African river.
The bronzes on show in the conservatory are nine in number. Five of them represent Camporana, found in the region, known to the indigenous tribes as tiale or keletia. Of the other four, three are plants belonging to normal botany while the fourth cannot with certainty be assigned to either realm. Some experts think that this fourth plant is a Sigurya, but the specimen does not have a sufficient number of pendulants to justify this hypothesis. At the same time the plant does present a number of features which would be decidedly abnormal in the general run of tropical plants. The five Camporana represent all the erect varieties known to us. Two of them are nearly two meters tall, and have a rather irregular distribution of the bosses. One of them is simply a miniature variety of the larger ones, with almost identical proportions. Of the remaining two bronzes one represents C. menorea, the name of which derives (pl. XVI) partly from its smaller size (Lat. minus less) and partly from its marked resemblance to the menorah, the seven-branched candlestick used in Jewish worship (the name was in fact conferred on it by the Israeli naturalist Ismael Brodsky).2 The other bronze is a typical specimen of the small Camporana "For Grace Received," thus baptized by the sisters of the Tuogoho Mission, on account of its approximate heart shape. The good sisters, who did not think twice about compromising with the animistic cults of the local population, invented a story which culminated in a miracle worked by San Trino of Montassano, whose prayers succeeded in changing a poisonous plant responsible for the deaths of thirty children-the terrible Fuahamec3-into a harmless plant which by dint of the miracle took on the form of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.


1. The number of leaves left on the tiale (36) and its multiples figure widely in the magic and mythology of ancient and primitive peoples. Thirty-six is the number of "Cosmic Solidarity," it is the "Grand Total" of the Chinese and the "Divine Year" of the Hindus. The numbers 36, 72 and 108 are favorites with secret societies, 36 being the number of the sky, 72 of the earth and 108 of man. There are 108 columns in the Temple of Ourga and 108 towers in Pnom Bakheng and Angkor. It is one of the symbolic numbers of Tantrism. According to Maspero, 72 and 108 divided by two give the astronomical coordinates of Loyang, the ancient Chinese Imperial capital.

2. Unlike the ritual candlestick, the seven "arms" of C. menorea are joined together to form one body, while at the top of each there is a small depression holding a paramimetic "seed" similar to those of the Giraluna.

3. A deadly poisonous plant similar to Tahana fremens. The Tuogoho fear its traitorous perfume, which if inhaled even briefly can cause death. They call it the Flower of Hua. In their mythology Hua is a devil with a thousand heads, and in each head a different cnel thought.


THE PROTORBIS

Above an Empire chaise lounge in the Gilded Room of the Chateau Nouilly at Vincennes there is a large painting by Gerard Melies, a hack painter, cousin of the great film-maker, who enjoyed a certain notoriety in Parisian artistic circles at the end of the last century. It is a portrait of the grandmother of the present Countess AmanAine. While the figure of the lady herself is painted realistically, in a manner faintly reminiscent of the style of David, the background reveals a temperament which perhaps at certain other times in the history of taste might have found expression in a certain lyrical plan. It shows a vast sweep of landscape, with bleak mountains huddled fearfully beneath the gathering storm clouds. In the narrow valleys there are black cypresses, while here and there on the rugged horizon is the silhouette of a distorted oak tree.
But in fact this is not the landscape it appears to be at first sight. Instead it is a still life, a heap of unusual plant shapes, forms intermediate between a mushroom and a potato, from which sprout a few leaves like those of parsley or celery.
The type of ambiguous play; the gambit that enables the spectator to transform the landscape into a still life and vice versa, takes one completely by surprise: it reveals that hereditary stroke of genius that like a leaf of an unimagined color buds forth from time to time on the family tree of the Melies'. But if the importance of this extraordinary picture stopped here we might be justified in taking it for the mere whim of a gifted but somewhat bizarre temperament. Its importance lies elsewhere, and it is only recently that we have been able to perceive its true extent.
The mushrooms lying scattered on the outspread green cloth, which in the "landscape" we see as an undulating green meadow in the midst of bleak mountains, are in fact a number of Protorbis foetida which Melies, a restless soul and tireless traveler, brought back from Asia Minor where he had gone on an expedition with his biologist friend Jean Entigas. Melies was a man of revolutionary tendencies who did not hesitate to accept commissions from the richer echelons of the Parisian bourgeoisie, people who while not wishing in the least to accept any ideological discipline were fond of adorning their evenings with some of the more eccentric members of the intellectual elite. It was perhaps to unburden a certain sense of guilt that the painter invented this trompe Voeil, being absolutely certain that the plants were so rare that no one would ever realize his act of provocation, which in any case was in poor taste and of small political significance.
And so things stood until 1935, when Professor Pierre-Paul Dumasque, a childhood friend of the Nouilly family, recognized that fantastic landscape as an important group of parallel plants. The circumstances leading up to the discovery of these Protorbis in Persia are not altogether clear, nor do we know why they remained in the possession of Melies. The fact that Jean Entigas was a keen collector of his friend's work suggests that the mysterious tubers might have been given to the painter in exchange for one of his pictures. We have since learned that Melies kept them in a transparent case, like a fish tank covered with a sheet of glass, along with a thousand other useless trifles he had brought back from his travels, and which lay piled and stacked on the shelves and all other available surfaces in his studio.
After the death of Melies his sister Melinde inherited all this bric-a-brac. Dumasque, spurred on by his discovery of the meaning of the picture, made tireless investigations which led him eventually to a son of Melinde's, a doctor in Arbieres (Indre-et-Loire) who had in his turn inherited this weird collection. It was not hard to persuade the doctor to donate the fish tank and its mysterious inhabitants, which in all these years had not shown the least sign of deterioration, to the Parallel Botany Laboratory of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where both Dumasque and Gismonde Pascain were able to study them at their leisure. The results of their researches were later published in a special issue of The Journal of Parallel Botany (October 1974) under the rather gimmicky title, "Protorbis -a parallel mushroom?"
If we are today in possession of those basic items of knowledge that enable us to carry on our study of parallel phenomena, we owe this in good part to the chance discovery of this picture by Melies. But more important in the long run was the wise and patient research which enabled the two French scientists to define the true nature of Protorbis, which is indeed anomalous and bizarre in the extreme. (pl. XVII)
The Protorbis, of which P. foetida is only one variety, has doubtless some points of resemblance to the mushroom family. These include form, color, and opacity. What distinguishes Protorbis from its cousins on the other side of the hedge is the irregularity of its outlines and the very massiveness of the testula which is less like the cap of a mushroom than like some vast black truffle. The importance of Protorbis lies in its lack of precise dimensions. It can be of any size, from the infinitely small to the infinitely large, a respect in which it reminds us of the first flora ever to exist, which in its perfect transparency was absolutely invisible and therefore not subject in any way to the concept of dimension. It is generally thought, in fact, that Protorbis, along with the tiril, is among the earliest of parallel plants. Certain specimens in the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, referred to by Entigas, are as big as the nearby mesas, and are indeed often mistaken for these hills, with their flat tops, in spite of the differences in form and matter. Protorbis is in fact composed of a substance which has only superficially the aspect of stone. If it is struck with a normal geological hammer it emits a high-pitched metallic sound totally at variance with its heavy and opaque appearance. The matterlessness which is attributed to the greater number of parallel plants must in the case of Protorbis be seen in a different light and completely redefined. In the sense of a material without any verifiable interior, of regular density and lacking any measurable specific gravity, we can still speak of matterlessness or nonsubstantiality. But at the same time anyone not versed in the ways of parallel botany might see or touch the plant and pronounce it-according to its size-to be a large hill or a virtually shapeless metal object.
Apart from P. minor, which disintegrates instantly at the least touch of a hand into the merest pinch of white powder, all specimens of Protorbis may be transported (size permitting), while their conservation requires no special techniques or environmental conditions.

PL. XVII Protorbis

Dumasque lists seven varieties of Protorbis, divided chiefly by difference in size. These are: the Colorado Protorbis; P. foetida; P. minor; the Katachek Protorbis; P.bisecta; P. inopsa; and P. torbis. This classification, which is now accepted by all scholars, was initially much criticized. And it seems to me that the critics had a good point. How can a plant which has no fixed dimensions, for which any size at all is theoretically possible, be divided into seven varieties by a criterion based primarily on size? Except for P. minor, a special case owing to its unique properties, this arbitrary division seems to conceal the most salient feature of the species: the way it varies from one plant to another, so that each individual is practically a species of its own, a never-to-be-repeated freak.
Furthermore the shape of the Protorbis is less constant and conforming than that of other plants, a fact which in itself makes a general description more difficult. Such plant has not only its own individual size, but also a shape of its own. Some of the Protorbis of Colorado and New Mexico, which stand in the desert shoulder to shoulder with the mesas, have trunks nearly as broad as the testula itself. In shape they are virtually cylindrical, and quite indistinguishable from the surrounding hills. In other cases, such as the Protorbis of Kamanchistan, discovered by Kowolski's son, the trunk is no bigger than that of an oak.
In nearly all known specimens the testula is rounded and smooth. It is in fact rather like the top of a human skull, or reminiscent of the cap of a mushroom except in respect to its size and color. In the tundra of Katachek, in the course of a journey through Siberia and in the vicinity of the Chinese frontier, Dumasque came across a specimen of Protorbis with a testula covered with protuberances similar to tirils. At first sight he took these for parasitic growths, but closer examination revealed that they were integral parts of the plant, "almost as if by this morphological anomaly it wished to voice a protest against its leaden immobility, a rebellion against its own amorphous and blutish appearance, by making a desperate attempt at flight toward the lightness and elegance of aerial things."1 Now known as fee Katachek Protorbis, it has entered the catalogue of parallel botany as an anomalous variety, but it is not impossible that it is the only known example of a different species altogether, with only a few tenuous analogies with Protorbis. (pl. XVIII)
The Indian P. minor, which exists in relative abundance in the jungles of Jandur and on the Tampala Mountains, is no bigger than a mushroom. It was the Middleton expedition which first used steophytirol to encase these plants, which are usually untouchable. Those they brought back are now on display in their little plastic cubes in the Parallel Botany room of the Birmingham Natural History Museum. Some might express surprise that Birmingham, one of the major industrial centers of Great Britain but certainly no intellectual Mecca, has one of the most important and complete collections of parallel plants in the world. However, we must bear in mind that the coal beds of the area long ago made Birmingham a great steel town, and it is only logical that economic interest in the natural resources that lay just under the surface of the earth should involve those sciences which were also developing dramatically during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and were closely linked with the impetuous advance of technology during the Industrial Revolution. The discovery of important beds of fossils encouraged paleontological research in the region, and these in turn attracted zoologists, botanists, and, ultimately, students of parabotany such as Wells and Joseph Middleton. The cultural development of the city, of course, did not stop there, and Birmingham acquired a great university, municipal art gallery; and symphony orchestra.
Even in early days a number of rich industrialists became aware that their economic wonders, performed at the expense of the working (or rather, toiling) classes, were causing increasing resentment, and they realized that among the intellectual elite of the country their persons were looked upon with no great sympathy. They therefore sought for ways to attach their names to enterprises of high cultural and moral prestige which at the same time were not too remote from their immediate sphere of interest.
The idea of an important museum of natural history specializing in the subterranean sciences was suggested in 1896 by Sir Oswald Otterton at a historic meeting of the Carbon Club, and a few years later it was an established fad. Generous bequests were remembered by a supposedly grateful public on the commemorative plaques that line the entrances to each room. The Parallel Botany Room was originally financed by Sir Jonathan Hoverley, and he is duly immortalized on a vast sheet of black marble.

. XVIII Protorbis

The room is appropriately grand, measuring about ten meters by five; on one side are two great windows overlooking the park, where trees of every known species, each bearing its name and title, are frozen as if on a grass-covered stage in the midst of a botanical comedy by Samuel Beckett. In comparison, the parallel plants arranged along the other walls and in the three central showcases seem, by some magical chance, to have found their natural environment. Perhaps this is because the context is so obviously that of a museum, slightly outside of time and isolated from the vulgar bustle of the world. Outstanding in size are the great Camporana leaf, three meters high, which dominates the room from the center of the long wall; the model of Giraluna gigas, a bronze copy of the smallest plant in the Lady Isobel Middleton group, which was donated to the museum by Maessens, who directed the reconstruction of the group (now in the British Museum); and the three so-called trunk Solea, on loan from the Laboratorio delle Campora.
The showcase nearest the entrance contains a heterogeneous collection of important documents, including the famous letter of Jacopo della Barcaccia (donated by the Italian government), Malguena's notes on the Sigurya, the camera with the polyephymerol lens that enabled Norton to photograph the Tampala Giraluna, and a small sculpture by Arp which is identical with the plaster model of the Artisia on display beside it. The showcase at the far end contains fragments of fossils, concretions and impressions, as well as a small collection of seeds, fruits, fragments of pseudo-bark and other paramimetic objects donated by Sir John Everston.
The central showcase, larger than the others, houses no less a treasure than the Protorbis minor from the Middleton expedition. It is equipped with a special lighting system designed to display the three-dimensionality of the plants, for in normal lighting, stuck in their plastic cubes, they tend to lose that appearance of weightiness characteristic of all the Protorbis varieties. The collection consists of twelve very similar specimens, nearly all in a perfect state of inclusion.
A particularly beautiful specimen is the one which Lady Isobel Middleton christened "Beginner's Luck," because it was the first she found. The overall height is eight centimeters and the testula is rather irregular, with a diameter roughly equal to the height of the plant. Its black color is definitely blacker than that of any of the other specimens in the showcase. The plant gives the impression of hugging blackness to it, like the night which once hid it and which still clings to it like an opaque skin
This indefinable blackness of the Protorbis, and especially of the Birmingham P. minor, provided one of the most interesting and original features of a lecture given by Norton at the Carbon Club and published in part in the annual Proceedings of the Club. For Norton, the black of P. minor is the ne plus ultra of the color of parallel plants. To perceive it in its fullness and to glimpse the significance of it we must look closely at our whole relationship with the inside of things. "We deny," said Norton, "that there is a difference between internal and external landscape, and we tend to transfer to the inside of things their solar skin, just as it is, without change, absurdly illuminated by a nonexistent light. Thus we imagine the inside of our bodies: a many-colored landscape in which blood-red and bile-green mingle on a palette that is only too familiar. We have only to suspect that there might be a black organ to realize that Satan has possessed us and that only the most strenuous exorcism will ever bring the light of day back into our vitals. While anyone who sees the inside of things as an impenetrable darkness runs the risk of being diagnosed as an incurable depressive, if anything, our real neurosis consists in our lack of ability to see and accept things as they actually are."
Norton goes on to tell how when he was in India he learned to think of the inside of things without doing violence to their integrity, just as he managed to think of his own most precious organs, lungs, heart and liver, as black flesh immersed in the utter blackness of his body, and to derive no feelings of discomfort from the thought. And then, one day, he suddenly understood the blackness of Protorbis. "It is logical enough," he wrote, "that plants which have no real and proper internal substance, but only an existential continuum circumscribed by its own formal exhaustion, should not have an exterior like that of the other things of the earth. The outside which we see in their case is not a kind of wrapper that contains, conceals and protects nonexistent lights and colors, but merely the visible limit of their internal darkness. They present themselves to us in all their utter nakedness, showing us exactly what they really are."
The Amished people of Tampala are perfectly familiar with P. minor, which they call bahan. An English officer stationed in the area not long after the First World War, a certain Major James Ronaldson, became interested in their ethnological problems and has left us an enlightening document on a number of local legends in which the bahan figures explicitly. In those days no European had ever seen the plant, and even Ronaldson was convinced that it was an imaginary plant, the fruit of the folk imagination. But many years later he happened to stumple across the Proceedings of the Carbon Club, and had no difficulty in identifying the plant described by Norton as the legendary bahan. Although by then over eighty, Major Ronaldson got in touch with the well-known botanist-photographer and sent him his account of the legends of Tampala. The two later met at Bensington in Kent, and fragments of the conversation that took place in the cottage garden under the great weeping willow which Major Ronaldson, an inveterate punster, liked to refer to as his "weeping widow," were published as a long appendix to the Annals of the Birmingham Museum of Natural History in 1974.
Of the legends recounted by Ronaldson, the most interesting is the one most explicitly concerned with P. minor. Here it is in full:

NANDI AND THE NIGHT

Every spring Lord Krishna used to come down from the mountains to graze his calf Nandi2 in the green meadows of the Andrapati valley. But one day, though the sun shone hot in the sky, he found the meadows still covered with snow. When night fell Nandi wept and said to Krishna: "My lord, I am hungry. Make the snow melt and the grass grow so that I may eat, and grow strong, and be happy."
So Krishna went to visit the Night, and said: "Nandi is hungry. Make the snow melt and the grass grow." But the Night answered: "Krishna, I am only the Night. I cannot melt the snow." Then Krishna said, "Tell the sun to melt the snow." But the Night answered, "I am only the Night. I cannot command the sun." When Krishna heard these words he grew angry and said, "Then I will take a piece of you to feed Nandi, who is hungry." And so he did. He brandished his great sword in the sky and a piece of the Night fell broken at his feet. Lord Krishna gathered up the bits and took them to Nandi. Nandi ate what Krishna had brought him, and when he was satisfied looked up at the sky and said, "Lord Krishna, you have made a hole in the heavens." And Krishna answered and told him, "It is the moon." So Nandi slept. When he awoke at dawn the snow had melted and the fields were green. For three days Krishna grazed his calf in the valley. Then the bird Vardatur came and carried Krishna and Nandi away. The crumbs from the piece of the Night remained, scattered under the great genensa trees. They are called "bahan" and they cannot be touched, for they are the food of Nandi the sacred calf of Krishna. If they chance to be touched by hand they will turn back into sky and fill the hole in the Night, and in this way the moon will disappear forever.

This legend is the clearest proof that the bahan of the Amished tribesmen is nothing other than the Protorbis minor discovered by Lady Middleton. The mention of the valley of the Andrapati and the forest of genensa trees, the description of the black-as-night color of the plants and their curious refusal to be touched, all these leave us in absolutely no doubt about it. It remains for us to find out when the legend originated. Ramesh Drapavati, Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Baroda, and a specialist in the Vadrahana, attributes the story in its present form to the Pachinah period, but does not rule out that it might be much older, perhaps even dating from the age of Akda. Such an attribution would confirm the hypothesis put forward by Maessens, according to which the Protorbis, along with the humble tiril, is amonig the first parallel plants of the earth.
The compact rudimentary form of both these species displays a fairly low level of plantness which nevertheless, in its bewildering immobility charged with frustrated violence, formed a prelude to the vegetable kingdom that thousands of years later was to alight softly on the black soil of our consciousness.


1. Pierre-Paul Dumasque, "La Protorbis de Katachek" (Journal des Sciences Biologiques, December 1969).

2. In official Hindu mythology, unlike what we find in this legend, Nandi is Shiva's bullock.


CONTENTS

PART ONE: INTRODUCTION 1
General Introduction 3
Origins 20
Morphology 35

PART TWO: THE PLANTS 57
The Tirillus 59
Tirillus oniricus 62
Tirillus mimeticus 64
Tirillus parasiticus 67
Tirillus odoratus 68
Tirillus silvador 70
The Woodland Tweezers 73
The Tubolara 78
The Camporana 80
The Protorbis 86

The Labirintiana 95
The Artisia 100
The Germinants 112
The Stranglers 117

The Giraluna 119
Giraluna gigas 134
Giraluna minor 1 43
The Solea 145
The Sigurya 162

PART THREE: EPILOGUE 171
The Gift of Thaumas 173
Notes 178

 

Hosted by uCoz