Fruit scale image

Warning signNext time you are around the Caribbean Sea, be sure to brush up on your botany so you can identify this deadly tree.  Just touch this tree can cause blistering, burning and severe irritation to your skin.  Even a small bite of its fruit will create massive irritation to your throat which could potentially swell shut as a reaction.

Found in the Bahamas, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, Florida, northern South America and the Galapagos islands, the manchineel tree (Hippomane manicells) is seductively beautiful and packs a seriously mean punch.

While local tribes have known the effects of this tree for quite some time, the Spanish dubbed it “arbol de la muerte” or “tree of death.”  Touching it can cause chemical burns to the skin and ingesting its fruit can cause diarrhea, vomiting and even seizures.  In local folklore, natives have used the tree as a torture device to their captives, tying them to the tree, then waiting for it to rain and wash the sap over their bodies.  The sap has also been used on the tips of hunting arrows.

Its potentially deadly effects come from an organic compound phorbol.  The manchineel tree has phorbol in its sap, bark and fruit.  Making this entire  tree dangerous to touch.

Fruit scale imageBurning this tree makes it that much more dangerous, sending the dangerous chemical airborne.  Contacting the smoke from a burning manchineel tree can cause total body irritation the skin, eyes and airway, even temporary blindness can occur.

While you will see very few animals on this tree, iguanas have been spotted living in the tree and even eating the fruit suggesting and specialized evolutionary advantage for the lizard.

This tree is on Florida’s endangered species list.