Are you afraid of a tree? You say No, but maybe you should be. When touring the Everglades this summer, we came across the manchineel (Hippomane mancinella) tree, a member of the spurge family, found in the sandy soils and mangroves of South Florida and the Caribbean coast.
This rare tropical plant, offers sweet fruit, resembling a small green crabapple about 1-2” wide and with one bite it can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, bleeding, digestive tract damage and potentially death making the manchineel one of the most poisonous trees on Earth. This tree was called ‘little apple of death’ by Spanish conquistadors who used manchineel sap to make poison arrows. The sap is so acidic that the slightest contact with human skin causes a breakout of blisters. If one of these deadly trees is burned, the resulting smoke and sawdust can burn the skin and lungs and cause blindness if it reaches a person´s eyes. The toxicity for manchineels in Florida, pushed eradication efforts which has now put the tree on the endangered species list.
Despite the danger, Caribbean carpenters have used manchineel to make furniture for centuries, carefully cutting the wood and then drying it in the sun to neutralize its poisonous sap. Native people even used manchineel as medicine. Today people tend to leave manchineel trees alone, for obvious reasons and because it provides a natural windbreak, since it can grow up to 50 feet tall, and it fights beach erosion.
Written and posted by Bev