|fruit and foliage|
The manchineel tree, Hippomane mancinella, is a species of flowering plant in the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae), and the only species in the monotypic genus Hippomane. Manchineel is native to Florida in the United States, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America. The name "manchineel" (sometimes written "manchioneel") 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. A present-day Spanish name is in fact manzanilla de la muerte, "little apple of death". This refers to the fact that manchineel is one of the most poisonous trees in the world.
Manchineel is a tree reaching up to 15 metres high with a greyish bark, shiny green leaves and spikes of small greenish flowers. Its fruits, which are similar in appearance to an apple, are green or greenish-yellow when ripe.
- Hippomane aucuparia
- Hippomane biglandulosa
- Hippomane cerifera
- Hippomane dioica
- Hippomane fruticosa
- Hippomane glandulosa
- Hippomane horrida
- Hippomane ilicifolia
- Hippomane mancanilla
- Hippomane spinosa
- Hippomane zeocca
The tree and its parts contain strong toxins, some unidentified. Its milky white sap contains phorbol and other skin irritants, producing strong allergic dermatitis. 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). Burning the tree may cause blindness if the smoke reaches the eyes.
The fruit is said to be possibly fatal if eaten, however, "fatalities from ingestion are not reported in the modern literature" (source 1991: Bygbjerg I.C. and H.K. Johansen: Manchineel poisoning complicated by streptococcal pharyngitis and impetigo. Ugeskr. Laeger 154(1), 27-28 (1991).) and "ingestion may produce severe gastroenteritis with bleeding, shock, bacterial superinfection, and the potential for airway compromise due to edema. Patients with a history of ingestion and either oropharyngeal burns or gastrointestinal symptoms should be evaluated for admission in hospital. Care is supportive." (source: Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists and Veterinarians, by Dietrich Frohne and Hans Jürgen Pfänder. 2005).
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. On Bonaire, however, trees are unmarked.
The tree contains 12-deoxy-5-hydroxyphorbol-6gamma, 7alpha-oxide, hippomanins, mancinellin, and sapogenin, phloracetophenone-2,4-dimethylether is present in the leaves, while the fruits possess physostigmine.
The Caribs used the sap of this tree to poison their arrows and would tie captives to the trunk of the tree, ensuring a slow and painful death. A poultice of arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea) was used by the Arawaks and Taíno as an antidote against such arrow poisons. The Caribs were known to poison the water supply of their enemies with the leaves. Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León was struck by an arrow that had been poisoned with Manchineel sap during battle with the Calusa in Florida, dying shortly thereafter.
To Europeans, the manchineel quickly became notorious. The heroine of Giacomo Meyerbeer's 1865 opera L'Africaine commits suicide by lying under a manchineel tree and inhaling the plant's vapours. In the 1956 film Wind Across The Everglades, a notorious poacher named Cottonmouth (played by Burl Ives) ties a victim to the trunk of a manchineel tree.
Literary and artistic references
Nicholas Cresswell, in his journal entry for Friday, September 16, 1774, mentions,
"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."
John Esquemeling, author of the book The Buccaneers of America writes of his experience with the "tree called mancanilla, or dwarf-apple-tree" when in Hispianola (modern day Haiti/Dominican Republic).
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.
Rafael Sabatini in The Chronicles of Captain Blood describes poisoning by manchineel fruit juice:
"Manzanilla!" Then he swung round, and, uttering horrible, blood-curdling blasphemies, he hurled the jack and the remainder of its contents at the dead man on the floor.
In Clive Cussler's 1988-published novel Treasure, manchineel (in the inflight meal) is used to poison the crew and passengers of a special plane carrying UN Secretary General Hala Kamil to New York—part of a two-pronged assault (the other part is done by a fake pilot who causes the aircraft to take a course to crash just below Vatnajokull—but the plane flies over Iceland to a location in Greenland near to where Dirk Pitt is working on a project).
In the 2011 novel Double Dexter, the sixth book in the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay, Cody and Dexter go on a Cub Scout camping trip in The Everglades where the Scout Leader gives an in depth lecture about the dangers of the manchineel tree.
There is a reference to the effects of manchineel poison in the 1974 novel You Are The Rain, by R.R.Knudson. It is about the adventures of two teenage girls lost and stranded in the Florida Everglades amidst hurricane Aretha. Before they are separated from their all-girl paddling group, they all camp along the Broad River at dusk, taking photos. Their leader, Miss Konecky, pushes a member into the river in time to prevent the girl from posing under the manchineel, with menacing clouds overhead. When the girl returns, Miss Konecky explains that she narrowly escaped being blistered, that merely standing under a manchineel during rain would have given her face painful and ulcerous blisters, as the fruit, leaves, sap and everything in the tree contained water soluble toxins. To this, the girl jokes about having a photo taken of a face that had just been narrowly saved from blistering.
- "Hippomane mancinella". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
- Poisonous plants and animals of Florida and the Caribbean By David W. Nellis
- fr:Hippomane mancinella
- "Hippomane mancinella". Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
- Jones, David E (2007). Poison Arrows: North American Indian Hunting and Warfare. University of Texas Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-292-71428-1. Retrieved 2009-01-23.
- Grunwald, Michael (2007). "Chapter 2: The Intruders". The Swamp. Simon & Schuster. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-7432-5107-5.
- "Hippomane mancinella". Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants. Plantatlas.org. Retrieved 2009-01-23.
- The Buccaneers of America; Part I, Chapter IV
- The Chronicles of Captain Blood, Chapter V - Blood Money
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