Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Poison-Apple Tree

Most residents of the USA are familiar with Poison Ivy (or Poison Oak), but we're generally not familiar with a farm more poisonous tree that also lives here. The Manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella) grows in Florida (as well as more tropical areas of the Americas) and is considered one of the most poisonous trees on the planet.

H. mancinella belongs to the Euphorbiacea, a plant family which is crowded with poisonous representatives. This tree stands out in the crowd, however. You can be poisoned by eating the fruit, touching the leaves, breathing smoke from burned wood, or even by rain splashing off upper branches. Locals tend to place large hazard signs on any tree that they know about. This doesn't stop the occasional tourist from finding one without appropriate signage, and even eating some of the sweet smelling (and tasting) fruit, before the poison begins to have its effect. Extreme pain, lesions, intestinal damage, etc. are common. Death isn't unheard of as a side effect of all this damage.

Before you go tromping around in the woods on some tropical Caribbean island, you should make a point to study up on how to identify this tree from a distance.


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