According to my New American Webster Handy College Dictionary, where I went looking for inspiration on this final day of the A to Z Blogging Challenge (!), a zoophyte is “an animal that looks like a plant, as a coral.”
I thought that was fascinating, so I went looking for more details.
According to Wikipedia, though applicable to real animals, the term is obsolete in modern science, and was once applied to legendary animals, as well. The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary was given as one such example.
The Vegetable lamb of Tartary is a legendary zoophyte of Central Asia, once believed to grow sheep as its fruit. The sheep were connected to the plant by an umbilical cord and grazed the land around the plant. When all accessible foliage was gone, both the plant and sheep died.
The plant is real (a fern going by many names, such as borometz), but it doesn’t actually produce sheep. Instead, a short length of the fern’s rhizome (root mass) resembles a lamb.
What an interesting legend. And what great picture book fodder! Turns out I’m not the only one who thought so.
Granted, Friedrich Justin Bertuch’s Picture Book for Children (the source of the above illustration) doesn’t strictly follow our modern picture book’s format, but it just goes to show that you never know where a potential story idea might sprout and go, “Baaaah!”