Saturday, May 14, 2011

Manchineel Tree

HB and I were taking a stroll along Brewer's Bay beach the other evening after work when we spotted a tree that looked much like an outsized crab apple.

It had rough bark, and had dropped little green fruits, along with brown, over-ripe fruits, all along the beach. It still had many brown fruits on it. I touched the fruit on the tree to see if it was hard, or soft, as the brown fruit looked more like seed-pods or nuts than fruit. We speculated a bit as to what it might be, at first suggesting a tamarind (not even close), before HB said, "wait, is it a manchineel? Aren't manchineel trees meant to look like crab apples?"

When we got home, we googled manchineel tree and discovered HB's identification to be correct. We also learned a bit about how dangerous manchineels can be.

First and foremost, the manchineel emits a toxic sap that causes an allergic skin reaction. Standing beneath a manchineel tree in the rain, or lashing yourself to a manchineel tree to escape a hurricane (a Florida Keys legend) can cause skin blistering so bad that people have actually died from it. The smoke from a burning manchineel can cause blindness upon contact with the eyes.

Besides the toxic sap, the fruit of the manchineel is also poisonous. Consuming small quantities of the fruit will result in blisters inside the mouth and throat. Consuming large quantities is fatal. The leaves and bark of the tree are also toxic in their own distinct ways. In all, the one tree contains about 8 chemicals that are toxic to humans and animals.

And there HB and I were, standing underneath it, handling the fruit and touching the leaves. Thankfully, neither of us came to any harm from our brush with the manchineel tree at Brewer's Bay. Should you visit the Caribbean, or southern Florida, be sure not to interact with any trees that look like over-grown crab apples.

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