The Latin American death tree
The Manchineel tree or Beach apple is a flowering plant native to coasts of the Caribbean, Central America, the northern edges of South America and south Florida. It is known to be one of the most dangerous trees in the world.
The name Manchineel comes from Spanish “manzanilla,” little apple and its similar to the fruit and leaves of a regular apple tree, but it is known as the tree of death. It is found on coastal beaches and in swamps, it grows among mangroves and helps as a windbreaker and its roots stabilize sand and prevent erosion.
“Warning: all parts of manchineel are extremely poisonous and interaction with or ingestion of any part of this tree may be lethal.” This is how Michael G. Andreu and Melissa H. Friedman, researchers from the University of Florida describe the tree.
The Manchineel produces a thick and milky sap; it can ooze out of the leaves, fruit, bark and twigs. The sap produces burn-like blisters when it comes in contact with the skin. Also according to the University of Florida’s report people have shown heavy inflammation of the eyes and even temporary blindness when in contact of the smoke of the tree’s burning wood.
During the Colonial times it is presumed various conquerors were intoxicated by its fruits and even it is rumored this tree killed famed explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. According to BBC even indigenous people used it for punishment tying them to the trunk so when it rained they would suffer, they also poisoned their arrows with the sap.
Manchineel trees are usually marked with signs to prevent people from its poison. Despite its threat, Manchineel tree is an endangered species in Florida. It has been largely used for furniture for centuries; its wood is dried in the sun to neutralize the poison.