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Spotlight: Beware Of The Poisonous Manchineel Tree

Manchineel is number one: in death. 

Disclaimer: This post is for entertainment purposes only. Any other use is contrary to that intended purpose and is not recommended. Links to my research are provided in the reference section.

Okay so the title is a little clickbaity. But what do you expect from the tree that the Guinness Book of World Records has dubbed as the world’s most dangerous tree?

In all fairness…

If the story of Snow White had been written in the Florida everglades or the Caribbean coast her wicked stepmother wouldn’t have needed to resort to magic in order to free herself of her unwanted stepdaughter. 

All she really needed was to cultivate her own Beach Tree with its amazingly poisonous apples. No need to dress up as an old lady either as she wouldn’t have needed to use the fruit alone as poison. 

She could have followed the native Caribs example and dipped an arrow in the white sap or latex, or put the leaves in Snow Whites drinking water. Tied her up to the trunk just before a rain storm allowing the white latex to cause blistering on her skin, or maybe blindness in the eyes… really the possibilities are endless and far more imaginative and effective than what the fairy tale’s envious queen reportedly did. 

Well that got dark quick. But really we’re discussing a toxic tree, so… 

A Bad Apple By Any Other Name

While not actually related to apple trees, the manchineel tree or beach apple tree has earned both names due to the superficial resemblance the leaves and small apples have to actual apple trees. 

In fact the word manchineel is derived from the spanish phrase “ manzanilla de la muerte” or “little apple of death”. 

Gotta thank the spanish Conquistadors for that name, informative yet catchy. 

These sweet tasting fruits reportedly poisoned some of the early conquistadors, hence their creative appellant. There are also stories of shipwrecked sailors getting sick, and sadly a handful of tourists each year feel the effects of the latex  that exists in all parts of the tree: the bark, the leaves, and the fruit. 

In fact the latin name is quite similar to the spanish one:  Hippomane mancinella in the euphorbiaceae family. Which loosely translated is manic horse apple. This is a name given to a family of trees that are known for causing horses to act in a manic or crazy fashion, they tend to be toxic. The mancinella part identifies it as the Manchineel or Beach Apple tree.  

Little Apple of Death or Just Danger. 

While the manchineel tree has a reputation for being extremely poisonous, there are no modern day records of anyone dying.

But the effects can be quite alarming. Let me tell you about Niki H. Strickland.

While vacationing on Tobago Island in the Carribean she and a friend found an amazingly beautiful deserted beach. On the beach were these lovely trees with some of their fruit lying on the ground. 

I rashly took a bite from this fruit and found it pleasantly sweet. My friend also partook (at my suggestion). Moments later we noticed a strange peppery feeling in our mouths, which gradually progressed to a burning, tearing sensation and tightness of the throat. The symptoms worsened over a couple of hours until we could barely swallow solid food because of the excruciating pain and the feeling of a huge obstructing pharyngeal lump. Sadly, the pain was exacerbated by most alcoholic beverages, although mildly appeased by pina coladas, but more so by milk alone.
Over the next eight hours our oral symptoms slowly began to subside, but our cervical lymph nodes became very tender and easily palpable. Recounting our experience to the locals elicited frank horror and incredulity, such was the fruit’s poisonous reputation.”

Her resulting “oral and esophageal ulceration and severe oedema” among other symptoms caused her to comment on how awareness of this fruit needs to be better advertised among packaged vacations. Not a bad suggestion really.

 Many areas do have signs, as the picture above shows. She simply had the misfortune to be on a beach where there weren’t any. 

But that doesn’t downplay the seriousness of the poisonous latex of the manchineel tree. Given the right circumstances it can lead to serious diseases, blindness, or even death. 

To Treat or Not to Treat 

In four different case studies found on the Journal Of Travel Medicine the authors found that various remedies from “Benadryl” cream, oral corticosteroids, and vinegar helped to alleviate the symptoms. 

In some cases healing occurred within a short time, others in five days. 

One case study had spontaneous healing in about forty minutes after the onset of the symptoms. 

Granted these were all dermatitis or skin rashes and blisters. 

As for ingesting, well there’s not a ton of explanation as to the treatment. One Reddit contributor found milk and/or gargling saltwater to be soothing.

If you have the misfortune to have any of the symptoms from touching or ingesting it’s good to know that it most likely can be treated over the counter and will clear up fairly quickly.

However if your symptoms are severe, just seek medical attention. 

Special Uses

But this tree is not completely useless. It does provide wonderful shade on sunny days (just don’t touch), and it’s roots help to prevent beach erosion. 

Not only that, but if you sun dry the wood it can be safely worked into beautiful furniture or art pieces. 

I don’t know about you, but if I was Snow Whites stepmother a Manchineel desk and throne would be pretty sweet. 

Information On Wikipedia
Deccan Chronicle
Atlas Obscura
Tree Hugger
Case Study of Nicki H. Struckland
Reddit Experience
This Tree Is So Toxic, You Can’t Stand Under It When It Rains
Guinness World Records
Knowledge Nuts
Endangered Species 
Manchineel Dermatitis 
Hazardous Plants to Avoid

About Author

Jenn Gaskin

After more than a decade in education I decided to turn my copious skills to writing. I have been freelance writing for Dancing Tree Gifts (formerly Sonora Kay Creations) since 2019. I wear many hats with DTG primarily copy editor, author, and web design.