The manchineel tree offers a notorious three-pronged self-defense strategy: it can choke you with its fruit, poison you with its sap, and blind you with its smoke. Literally every part of the tree is poisonous. Native to Florida, the Caribbean and Central America, the manchineel has gained an infamous reputation, and throughout history it has been both vital and deadly to humans.Continue Reading
Perhaps the manchineel's most famous element is its sap. Native Americans used it to poison the tips of their arrows during battle. Famous Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon was supposedly struck in the leg by one of these arrows and died shortly after. The sap can also burn and blister skin with any direct contact. It's so potent that it can harm someone even if they are standing under a manchineel while it's raining.
Its fruit is known in Spanish as the "manzanilla de muerte," or the "little apple of death." Similar in size to an apple, its toxins can close down airways and cause gastrointestinal bleeding, among other painful symptoms. The manchineel has only one known nemesis (other than humans): the iguana, which eats its fruit and occasionally lives in its branches.
Lest you try to get rid of a manchineel tree by burning it down, don't get too close. The smoke can cause painful blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes.
And yet, despite all of the reasons to the contrary, humans have still found a way to harvest and use manchineel wood. During colonial times people used it for furniture, believing that chemicals and sunshine would neutralize its toxic qualities. In Jamaica some use the bark gum for medicinal purposes.
Today, most manchineel trees come with warning signs urging people to keep a distance. Despite all of its hearty defenses, the manchineel is now endangered and on the verge of becoming extinct in Florida.Learn more about Environmental Science