In Search of Truth

by Holly Day

In the 14th century, world-renowned traveler Sir John Mandeville came back to England with stories of a “vegetable sheep,” thinking that the cotton plants he’d seen growing in India were actually embryonic sheep, born out of the hard little wooden nubs. First, sheep start out as fluff, he theorized, then the hoofs and the legs emerge, pulling the body and head out afterwards. He didn’t stay in India long enough to see the cotton grow into a sheep, but he did bring home several pods for scientists to dissect and study, in hopes of growing more vegetable sheep in English soil.

It wasn’t until 1557 that Italian scientist Girolamo Cardano wrote an extensive and exhaustive thesis on how soil could not possibly provide the requisite heat for the fetal development of animals. He was very sure of this. There were rumors of questionable experiments, a slew of missing dogs and cats, a few sheep from the surrounding countryside, tiny graves and headstones in his backyard hidden just behind a plot of sweet peas and marigolds.

Published on January 3, 2020