scream

When Kelly Quirino found a mysterious piece of plant matter on her doorstep, she had no idea it would turn into a larva bomb that would infest her car. But she did quickly become fixated on figuring out what it was. Two weeks later, thanks to the internet, we’re all a little bit closer to figuring out what it is — and a lot more obsessed with the seriously squirm-inducing saga of the Cursed Root.

Quirino, who goes by @keplyq on Twitter, posted a photo of a mysterious object that showed up on her front doorstep a couple weeks ago. It looks a bit like a pear whose bottom was chewed off before it spent a few centuries in Hell, being scorched with unholy flames and infested with eldritch horrors. “It took me about 8 seconds to become completely obsessed with it,” tweeted Quirino. “I mean. What the fuck IS it?? Animal? Vegetable? Mineral? Alien womb? Why is it full of all those sticks??? Is it a curse? A blessing? I mean. duh. I knew it was a curse.” The tweet thread went viral. Horrified commenters were thirsty for more information.

You can read the whole thread for yourself to find out what happened, but be warned: It involves a car full of mysterious larvae, a bug squishing rock, and, well, lots of bugs. Sure, bugs are awesome. Who doesn’t love a story about someone leaving something in their car and then having it serve as a nursery for some kind of creepy crawlies? As a plant lover, though, I’m most interested in Quirino’s very first question: What the fuck is it?

That’s where things get tough. Dr. Bruce Kirchoff a professor of biology who specializes in plant morphology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, tells Inverse that it can be hard to identify the Cursed Root aka the Fucked up Turkey Leg based on this photo. “There is not much to go on in that picture,” he says. And the rest of the thread, while entertaining, isn’t all that illuminating for scientists.

Dr. Karen James, an independent researcher, agrees. “I could potentially sequence its DNA,” she tells Inverse. “That’s what I do: use DNA to tell what species are. But that would be impossible if she indeed threw it away.” And just in case you didn’t read the whole thread or in case you forgot, Quirino definitely threw it away. No body, no crime.

Even with no corpus delicti, though, there can still be a conviction if investigators are sufficiently dogged. And as a dogged investigator, I can safely say I’ve narrowed it down to three prime suspects. Here they are, in no particular order, along with how much the evidence stacks for or against them.

Elefantenfuß (Beaucarnea recurvata)

Beaucarnea recurvata (Ponytail Palm)

  • Prosecution: Beaucarnea recurvata, which goes by the common names ponytail palm and elephant’s foot, isn’t really a palm. It actually belongs to the family Asparagaceae, which also includes the tasty stalky veggie. B. recurvata has roughly the right shape and color to be the Cursed Root. Quirino reported that the object was about the length of her forearm, which is definitely within the typical range for this species.
  • Defense: The outside of the Cursed Root doesn’t look a whole lot like a ponytail palm’s bark. Most ponytail palms have grooves and cracks running across their bark, but this object is relatively free from such features. Additionally, the fibers coming out of The Object appear to be coming out throughout the entire area of the bottom, while a ponytail palm’s most active roots typically come from around the edges of the caudex (the fat trunk). Finally, it’s a houseplant that couldn’t survive outdoors in Indiana.
  • Closing argument: The most likely situation here is that someone threw out a rotting ponytail palm houseplant, and some mischief-maker threw it on the porch. It’s not totally out of the question, and among commenters on both Twitter and the r/whatsthisplant subreddit, *B. recurvata seems to be the frontrunner. But it’s not the only possibility.
Adenium obesum - Marie Selby Botanical Gardens - Sarasota, Florida - DSC01083

Adenium obesum (Desert Rose)

  • Prosecution: Another prime suspect in this case is Adenium obesum, more commonly known as a desert rose. Like the ponytail palm, this plant has a stem that’s fat toward the bottom and narrow up top, so it fits the visual profile. Its surface makes it a better candidate than the ponytail palm, too, as the outside of a desert rose is often quite smooth, much like the object in Quirino’s photo.
  • Defense: There’s also a strong case to be made for A. obesum, but much like the ponytail palm, the roots don’t quite match. Desert roses, especially specimens of this size, usually have thick belowground roots, but the Fucked up Turkey Leg doesn’t show evidence of such roots. It’s also a tropical plant that wouldn’t live outdoors in Indiana’s climate.
  • Closing argument: All in all, it seems equally possible that the Cursed Root is an A. obesum or a B. recurvata. Since it’s also a houseplant, one could imagine a similar situation, in which someone tossed a derelict plant in the trash and some industrious pranksters fished it out for a prank.
Brisbane. Sausage Tree in the gardens of Newstead House with the brisbane River in the background.  This unsual tropical tree is Kigelia africana.The sausage fruits can be two feet long. JPG

Kigelia africana (Sausage Tree)

  • Prosecution: In the online discussions of the Cursed Root, not many people have mentioned Kigelia africana, which, for obvious reasons, is also called the sausage tree. Its fruits fit the general shape of the mystery object, as well as the outer texture. While many of the tree’s fruits are totally sausage- or cucumber-shaped, some of them narrow at the top like the Fucked up Turkey Leg does. The fibers coming out of the mystery object could belong to a sausage tree fruit, too.
  • Defense: The K. africana is native to a warm climate, so it couldn’t live outdoors in Indiana. Unlike a ponytail palm or a desert rose, which could be at home in an Indiana living room, the sausage tree is quite large, so it’s not very likely that someone has a mature, fruiting sausage tree in their house. Therefore, it would be pretty hard for someone to get one of these to Quirino’s front door.
  • Closing argument: That being said, it’s not impossible. Non-native sausage trees grow in Florida and other warm U.S. states, so if someone brought a fruit back in their suitcase, it could have ended up in Indiana. There’s also at least one sausage tree in the midwestern U.S., and it’s at the Lincoln Park Conservatory in Chicago. So it’s not out of the question that a sausage tree fruit could come from nearby, though it’s not super likely.

The Verdict

In this case, without sufficient physical evidence, we’re looking at a hung jury. Each of these suspects has evidence against them, but they also have plausible defenses. Kirchoff suggests that maybe this is for the best, though. As with many viral mysteries, getting an answer isn’t always satisfying.

“Frankly, I think that the Twitter group is happier making up their own stories about what this is,” he says. “If they got a final ID, it might take a lot of fun out of it.”

But here at Inverse, we love finding out the boring truth behind cool stories, so if you have any ideas, let us know!