The Manchineel tree is known as the deadliest tree in the world. Its sap can burn your skin, its fruit can poison you, and the smoke it creates if you burn can temporarily blind you. You may be thinking “Well, I’ve never heard of it, so it must not exist where I live”. Unfortunately, if you’re American and from Florida, it’s a lot closer than you think (1).
The Manchineel Tree: The Deadliest Tree In The World
Imagine lounging under a tree for shade or taking shelter under one during a storm. Seems like a reasonable thing to do, right? If it is a manchineel tree, then no, it is a really, really bad idea. This tree, after all, can do some serious damage.
The Manchineel Tree is also known as the Beach Apple or Poison Guava tree. It is native to tropical parts of North America, Central America, The Caribbean, and parts of South America. In Spanish, the tree is known as el arbol de la muerte, which quite literally translates to “tree of death”. Scientists have dubbed it the most dangerous tree in the world.
What Makes The Manchineel Tree So Dangerous?
The real question should be what doesn’t make the tree so deadly. The tree is in the same family as the poinsettia plant, with which many of us are currently adorning our houses for the holidays. The Manchineel produces a thick, milky sap that leaks out of nearly every part of the tree. The bark, the leaves, and even the fruit. Upon contact with the skin, it causes terrible burn-like blisters.
The sap of the Manchineel tree contains a variety of toxins. Scientists believe that the most reactive of these is one called phorbol. Phorbol is a highly water-soluble organic compound. This is why you don’t even want to stand under it while it’s raining. A watered-down version of the sap will drip onto you. Even in a weakened state, that sap can do a lot of damage. If it drips into your eyes, it can cause temporary blindness. Ingesting it can be fatal.
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Do Not Eat
The sweet green fruit that grows on this tree is one that you most definitely want to avoid. Even one bite will cause burning and blistering of the mouth and esophagus. The swelling and pressure of this will make it difficult to breathe. If not treated, this can be fatal. (2)
Using the tree as firewood will also come with terrifying results. The smoke from the toxin being released into the air, if it gets into your eyes, can cause temporary blindness. Whether it’s the smoke or the sap that gets in, it can cause blindness for up to three days.
“All parts of this tree including the fruit is poisonous,” The University Of Florida wrote in a blog post. “The medical symptoms include: contact dermatitis, blistering of the skin, conjunctivitis with blindness for up to 3 days, and severe gastrointestinal symptoms if ingested. Even burning the wood may injure the eyes.”
Manchineels Exist In Florida
Manchineel trees can be found in many places, a shocking number of them in popular tourist destinations. Often they are marked in some way to indicate their danger, but not always. Unwitting beach-goers or ignorant sun chasers may come across them and not even realize it. You can find Manchineel trees in (3):
- The Caribbean
- The Bahamas
- Central America
- Northern and South America
Usually, it is found on coastal beaches or brackish (salt) swamps. They often grow among the mangroves. They aren’t all bad, though. In fact, they actually do benefit the environment. They act as windbreakers and they stabilize the sand with their roots. This helps reduce beach erosion.
Of course, you likely don’t want one in your own backyard. If you find one on your property, however, it is very important that you do not touch it or attempt to remove it yourself. Rather, you should call a professional tree service. Make sure that you tell them that it is a toxic Manchineel tree. They will come with their special gear and equipment to remove it for you.