The manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella), declared the most dangerous plant in the world by the Guinness World Records, is a native of northern South America and tropical southern North America. The name of the tree is derived from the Spanish word manzanilla which means “little apple.” The name has been chosen since the fruits and the leaves of the manchineel tree superficially resemble that of the apple tree. However, unlike the apple tree which provides a delectable, nutrient-rich fruit, the manchineel tree produces a deadly toxin that can cause great suffering.
Where Does The Manchineel Tree Grow?
The Manchineel tree is found in Florida, US, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, and northern South America. Within its range, the tree grows on coastal beaches and among mangroves in brackish swamps.
The Description Of The Tree
The manchineel tree, an evergreen species, attains a height of about 49 feet. The flowers are small and greenish-yellow in color while the leaves are shiny green, and the bark is reddish-grayish. The green or greenish-yellow fruits are similar in appearance to apples.
Why Is The Plant So Deadly?
All parts of the manchineel tree are strongly toxic. The toxic composition of this tree is yet to be fully elucidated. The sap of the tree has phorbol and other skin irritants, exposure to which leads to strong allergic dermatitis. Even if a person takes shelter under the tree during rains, the washed-down sap will cause the skin to blister. Even car paints are damaged by the sap of this tree. If the tree is burnt, the toxic fumes might lead to ocular injuries.
Can it be any worse? It is claimed that the fruit of the manchineel tree if eaten, will kill the person eating it. Although reports of deaths do not exist in modern literature, some reports exist describing the extreme agony felt by people consuming the fruit.
To warn people of possible contact with the manchineel tree, the governments of some places where this tree grows have ensured that the trees carry a warning sign.
Due to its extreme toxicity, the manchineel tree has often been mentioned in crime thrillers and novels.
An Animal That Actually Lives On The Tree
Although most birds and animals avoid the tree completely as they are prone to the dangers offered by the tree, there is one creature that defies all. The black-spined iguana (Ctenosaura similis) actually lives among the limbs of the tree and also consumes its fruit, baffling all who regard the tree as the most dangerous tree in the world.
The “Good Side” Of The Manchineel Tree
Despite the dangers associated with the manchineel tree, it plays a vital role in the ecosystem. The tree is one of the best natural windbreaks that protects coastal areas from storms. The roots of the tree help stabilize the soil and prevent beach erosion.
Humans have also managed to exploit the tree for commercial purposes. The tree is cut carefully and is left to dry in the sun to do away with the toxic sap. Then, the timber is used for making furniture. The gum is sometimes used for medicinal purposes. The dried fruits are used as a diuretic.