|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 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 manzanilla de la muerte, "little apple of death." This refers to the fact that manchineel is one of the most dangerous trees in the world. Manchineel is also known as the beach apple.
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.
All parts of the tree contain strong toxins, some unidentified. Its milky white sap contains phorbol and other skin irritants, producing strong allergic contact 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). 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.
The fruit is potentially fatal if eaten; however, no such occurrences are reported in the modern literature; ingestion may produce severe gastroenteritis with bleeding, shock, bacterial superinfection, and 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 timber by Caribbean carpenters 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.
Literary and artistic references
William Ellis, ship's surgeon for James Cook on his final voyage, wrote: "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."
Alexandre Exquemelin wrote in The Buccaneers of America of his experience with the "tree called mancanilla, or dwarf-apple-tree" when in Hispaniola (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."
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."
In the 2018 Amazon series “Homecoming”, the tree’s leaves are part of a mind-altering drug administered to combat veterans to test its effectiveness in reducing PTSD symptoms.
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- 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 23 January 2009.
- An Authentic Narrative of a Voyage Performed by Captain Cook and Captain Clerke, in His Majesty's Ships Resolution and Discovery, During Years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780: In Search of a Northwest Passage Between the Continents of Asia and America, Including a Faithful Account of All Their Discoveries, and the Unfortunate Death of Captain Cook. G. Robinson, J. Sewell and J. Debrett. 1783. p. 60.
- The Buccaneers of America; Part I, Chapter IV
- Cresswell, Nicholas. The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell: 1774–1777.
- "Gallica: L'africaine : opéra en 5 actes / par Eugène Scribe ; musique de Meyerbeer. 1924". Bibliothèque nationale de France. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
- Allen, Grant (1887). The Beckoning Hand, and Other Stories. Auckland: The Floating Press.
- "The Beckoning Hand" (Project Gutenberg website). Accessed 14 August 2019.
- White, Susan (2014). "Chapter 14: Nicholas Ray's wilderness films: word, law, and landscape (p. 173)". In Rybin, Steven; Scheibel, Will (eds.). Lonely places, dangerous ground: Nicholas Ray in American cinema. Albany NY: State University of New York (SUNY) Press. ISBN 978-1-4384-4981-4.
- "Most dangerous tree". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
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