Manchineel Tree, Tree of Death

Tree of Death / Manchineel

Common name Manchineel
Botanical name Hippomane mancinella
Family Euphorbiaceae
Natural range Caribbean region
Mature height to 15m
Form Rounded crown
Likes Hurting people
Dislikes being eaten
Where to plant Nowhere. Don’t even walk near one.
Known for ‘Tree of Death’!

Where is the deadliest tree in the World?

Here’s a fun tree. It is colloquially known as the ‘Tree of Death’ or in Spanish, the ‘little apple of death’. This colourful title refers to the fact that the Manchineel is one of the most toxic trees in the world – the tree has milky-white sap which contains numerous toxins and can cause blistering. The sap is present in every part of the tree: the bark, the leaves, and the fruit.

Toxic, toxic, toxic

Even standing under one in a rainstorm will get you into trouble. Standing beneath the tree during rain will cause blistering of the skin from mere contact with the liquid that runs off the leaves! The sap has also been known to damage the paint on cars and if someone decides to throw Manchineel wood on the fire, the smoke can cause eye injuries if you happen to stand in the way.

All parts of the tree contain strong toxins. Its milky white sap contains phorbol and other skin irritants, producing strong contact dermatitis. Surprisingly, while the fruit is potentially fatal if eaten, no deaths have occurred in modern times, but there have been plenty of close calls.

What happens when you eat a Manchineel fruit?

Eating the fruit can produce severe gastroenteritis with bleeding, shock, and bacterial superinfection, as well as the potential for airway compromise due to edema. What does the Manchineel fruit taste like? When eaten, it reportedly tastes “pleasantly sweet” at first, with a subsequent “strange peppery feeling … gradually progressing to a burning, tearing sensation and tightness of the throat.” Symptoms continue to worsen until the patient can barely swallow solid food because of the excruciating pain and the feeling of a huge obstructing lump in their throat.

Can anything eat the fruit?

There is one creature, the Striped Iguana, Ctenosaura similis seemingly has a cast iron stomach and can handle these fruits as part of its daily routine.

Are there Manchineel trees in the US?

This happy little guy is native to the Caribbean, Florida in the USA, the BahamasMexicoCentral America, and northern South America. Manchineel can be found on coastal beaches and in brackish swamps, where it grows among mangroves. It does help to provide excellent natural windbreaks and its roots stabilise the sand, reducing beach erosion.

Reproduction using coastal tides

But how does a tree like this reproduce when even its fruits are toxic to almost every living creature? In much of its range, the coastal tides are its principal dispersal mechanism – fruit drops from the tree into nearby water, and thanks to its buoyancy, is taken by the tides somewhere else. Eventually the fruit rots and the seeds can grow.

So, what is this tree good for?

Erosion control. The Manchineel is found along Caribbean coastlines and plays a central role in windbreaks and holding the coastlines together, very similar to a Mangrove Forest.

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