Ah, innocent times past … Matt Simon reminisces about the wonderful Vegetable Lamb of Tartary in his “Fantastically Wrong” column for Wired:
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They say that money doesn’t grow on trees, but technically it does grow on a plant. Our greenbacks, you see, are 75 percent cotton. If you haven’t actually seen a cotton plant before, here’s how it works. It’s a remarkable little shrub, with a bundle of leaves at its base and a long stem shooting skyward. And at the top of this stem is a lamb, which swings around hopelessly like a furry tetherball.
Or so goes the story of the bizarre Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. Also known as the barometz, derived from the Tartar word for lamb, this was a useful little creature that Europeans in the Middle Ages–aware that cotton was a thing that arrived from India, yet unaware exactly how it grew–decided was the source of their newfangled threads.