As children, many of us were warned not to eat apple seeds or cherry pits for fear that we'd wake up one day to find a tree clawing its way out of our stomachs, Alien-style. But as we grew older, we gained an underwhelming but improved degree of scientific knowledge and general skepticism, and eventually found that trunks and branches wouldn't sprout out of our torsos after chomping into non-seedless watermelon. So we slept soundly, sure that we would never wake up to a vine bursting through our navels. (Aside from some panicked individuals whose sleepless nights are documented on Yahoo! Answers.)
But for an unfortunate few, there may have been something to those urban legends after all.
On Friday, reports surfaced that Diana Martinez, a 22-year-old Colombian woman, sought a local nurse with complaints of abdominal pains, only to find that the culprit was a common potato, purposefully inserted in her vagina with contraceptive intentions. ("My mum told me that if I didn't want to get pregnant, I should put a potato up there," she begrudgingly told news channel HSB Noticias. "I believed her.") Apparently when nurse Carolina Rojas performed an exam and took a look between "pale and scared" Diana's legs, she "saw roots". Although the potato had been all-up-in-there for two weeks, the pain only became acute when the lone, cozy spud began to sprout, mistakenly thinking itself to be in a patch of particularly rich soil. (A true pal, Rojas removed the potato for her before taking her to the hospital. Diana did not require surgery, nor did she decide to keep the young potato and start herself on a diet of Miracle-Gro.)
Although this story might sound loco (and is part of a much larger cultural conversation about the importance of sex education), Diana is not alone in her basely-informed compulsion to insert edible plants into her orifices. A gynecologist recently told Scientific American that roughly ten percent of the yeast infection patients he sees have used intravaginal garlic suppositories in attempts to harness their purported antifungal properties. (Some online sources rave about the "alternative" treatment, though its efficacy has not been verified scientifically.) There are tons of alternative medicine websites that recommend shovin' all kinds of herbs and wild vegetables into your lady-cave to prevent pregnancy or fight infections or increase lubrication.
And then there are the times when plants and seeds end up inside your body through sheer luck and not intentional insertion. Take, for example, good old Ron Sveden of Brewster, Massachusetts, who thought he was on death's door in 2010 when doctors found what appeared to be a tumor on an x-ray of his lung. He was already struggling with emphysema and experiencing violent coughing fits; naturally, he assumed the worst. Two weeks and several biopsies passed without answers.
Dr. Jeff Spillane fed a tiny camera on a wire down his throat to get a closer look. Miraculously and confusingly, the growth turned out to be a pea shoot, sprouting from a seed that he must have accidentally inhaled during some careless pea-eating. (Spillane concedes that it might also have been a bean, telling the Cape Cod Times, "Whether it [was] a pea or a bean … I'll never know.") A half-inch long, it had been rattling around inside his lung, forming a tumor-like crust and sprouting tiny leaves, probably equally confused about its whereabouts. The sense of relief that came with the realization his labored breathing, pneumonia, and pain had been caused by a legume instead of cancer gave Ron a new lease on life. He was decidedly more fortunate than the 81-year-old British man who died from inhaling a peanut in 2011.
And if you still don't believe that seed-swallowing can mean internal bodily subsistence farming, consider then-28-year-old Russian man Artyom Sidorkin, who started coughing up blood and suffering from intense chest pains in 2009, probably forgetting about that casual time a while back when he had eaten a fir tree bud. When doctors cut into his chest, expecting a threatening mass of malignancy, they found instead a precious miniature fir tree, two inches long and complete with fully-formed needles. The coughing was caused by the branch poking at his capillaries.
So while we may be yucking it up at all of the sarcastic responses to the Yahoo! Answers user whose daughter just ate an apple core and begs of the internet, "Can trees grow inside you if you eat seeds?" the answer might not be as simple as you once thought. "**Kayla C**," who claims that "TREES CAN NOT GROW IN PEOPLE," should know that some beg to differ.
In an era of rampant environmental destruction, food shortages, and unethical agricultural industry, perhaps we can take a look at Diana, Ron, and Artyom and see glimmers of hope for a future of more sustainable practice. Were we to all be so resourceful and harvest produce from our internal organs and body cavities, we could be killing two figurative birds with one stone and feed ourselves from the inside out.
There is room for growth in all of us.