|Fruit and foliage|
The manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella) is a species of flowering plant in the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). Its native range stretches from tropical southern North America to northern South America.
The name "manchineel" (sometimes spelled "manchioneel" or "manchineal"), as well as the specific epithet mancinella, is from Spanish manzanilla ("little apple"), from the superficial resemblance of its fruit and leaves to those of an apple tree. It is also known as the beach apple.
A present-day Spanish name is manzanilla de la muerte, "little apple of death". This refers to the fact that manchineel is one of the most toxic trees in the world: the tree has milky-white sap which contains numerous toxins and can cause blistering. The sap is present in every part of the tree: the bark, the leaves, and the fruit.
The manchineel tree can be found on coastal beaches and in brackish swamps, where it grows among mangroves. It provides excellent natural windbreaks and its roots stabilize the sand, thus retarding beach erosion.
Hippomane mancinella, the evergreen manchineel tree, grows up to 15 metres (49 ft) tall. It has reddish-greyish bark, small greenish-yellow flowers, and shiny green leaves. The leaves are simple, alternate, very finely serrated or toothed, and 5–10 cm (2–4 in) long.
Spikes of small greenish flowers are followed by fruits, which are similar in appearance to an apple, are green or greenish-yellow when ripe. The fruit is poisonous, as is every other part of the tree.
Standing beneath the tree during rain will cause blistering of the skin from mere contact with this liquid: even a small drop of rain with the milky substance in it will cause the skin to blister. The sap has also been known to damage the paint on cars. Burning the tree may cause ocular injuries if the smoke reaches the eyes. Contact with its milky sap (latex) produces bullous dermatitis, acute keratoconjunctivitis and possibly large corneal epithelial defects.
Although the fruit is potentially fatal if eaten, no such occurrences have been reported in the modern literature. Ingestion can produce severe gastroenteritis with bleeding, shock, and bacterial superinfection, as well as the potential for airway compromise due to edema.
When ingested, the fruit is reportedly "pleasantly sweet" at first, with a subsequent "strange peppery feeling ... gradually progress[ing] to a burning, tearing sensation and tightness of the throat." Symptoms continue to worsen until the patient can "barely swallow solid food because of the excruciating pain and the feeling of a huge obstructing pharyngeal lump."
In some parts of its range, many trees carry a warning sign – for example on Curaçao – while others are marked with a red "X" on the trunk to indicate danger. In the French Antilles the trees are often marked with a painted red band a few feet above the ground.
The tree contains 12-deoxy-5-hydroxyphorbol-6-gamma-7-alpha-oxide, hippomanins, mancinellin, and sapogenin, phloracetophenone-2,4-dimethylether is present in the leaves, while the fruits possess physostigmine.
A poultice of arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea) was used by the Arawak and Taíno as an antidote against such poisons. The Caribs were known to poison the water supply of their enemies with the leaves. Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León died shortly after an injury incurred in battle with the Calusa in Florida—being struck by an arrow that had been poisoned with manchineel sap.
Despite the inherent dangers associated with handling it, the tree has been used as a source of wood by Caribbean furniture makers for centuries. It must be cut and left to dry in the sun to remove the sap. A gum can be produced from the bark which reportedly treats edema, while the dried fruits have been used as a diuretic.
"Inside the Poison Dome we grow some of the deadliest plants on the planet, including water hemlock, deadly nightshade, elephant's ear, death cap mushrooms and castor beans. The manzanilla tree has attractive fruit which you may choose to swallow. If you do so, it will kill you instantly. There is also a white resin dripping out of it which will blister your skin and blind you."
"On the fourth, a party of men were sent to cut wood, as the island apparently afforded plenty of that article; amongst other trees they unluckily cut down several of the manchineel, the juice of which getting into their eyes, rendered them blind for several days."
"One day being hugely tormented with mosquitoes or gnats, and as yet unacquainted with the nature of this tree, I cut a branch thereof, to serve me instead of a fan, but all my face swelled the next day and filled with blisters, as if it were burnt to such a degree that I was blind for three days."
"The Mangeneel Apple has the smell and appearance of an English Apple, but small, grows on large trees, generally along the Seashore. They are rank poison. I am told that one apple is sufficient to kill 20 people. This poison is of such a malignant nature that a single drop of rain or dew that falls from the tree upon your skin will immediately raise a blister. Neither Fruit or Wood is of any use, that I can learn."
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