The Manchineel, or ‘Death Apple,’ Is the World’s Most Dangerous Tree

Whether you climb them, hug them or simply admire them, trees are easy to love. After all, they cleanse the air we breathe, offer shade from the sun and provide sweet, nutritious fruit. But love isn’t exactly what you’ll feel if you get too close to the manchineel tree. Known as the most dangerous tree in the world, the manchineel tree is found along the sandy beaches and mangroves in tropical climates stretching from Florida to the Caribbean and down into parts of Central and South America. This is one tree that can cause a world of hurt.

Advertisement

The Dangers of Manchineel Trees

The manchineel’s small apple-like fruit definitely won’t keep the doctor away — it packs such a poisonous punch that the Spanish conquistadors called it the manzanilla de la muerte or little apple of death. This ominous name may sound extreme, but history shows that indigenous peoples used the sap to poison their arrows and contaminate the water supply of the invading Spaniards.

While there are no reported instances in modern botanical literature of anyone dying from ingesting the innocent-looking fruit, if you were to bite into it, the sweet taste would quickly turn quite painful. And we’re not talking about the uncomfortable burn of eating a super-hot pepper; the manchineel fruit will cause intense burning and severe swelling of your throat. The area around your mouth may get inflamed and blister, and potentially severe digestive problems can ensue.

Advertisement

Unfortunately, the danger doesn’t stop there. Just touching the leaves, even briefly, or using the tree as nature’s umbrella during a rainstorm will cause blistering lesions on your skin. And if you get any of the sap — or smoke from burning the wood — in your eyes, you will most likely experience temporary blindness.

The Experience of Eating Manchineel Fruit

Here’s radiologist Nicola Strickland describing in the journal BMJ her experience ingesting the fruit of the manchineel tree on a visit to the Caribbean island of Tobago:

Advertisement

The Trees Do Have a Fan

But the tree isn’t entirely evil. Their deep-growing roots help prevent soil erosion. And it provides a safe home and full belly for one lucky reptile — the garrobo, or striped iguana of Central and South America. Immune to its poison, the garrobo has the tree all to itself.

Advertisement

How To Identify a Manchineel Tree

While most manchineel trees are marked with a large red X or a sign explaining the danger, you’ll want to know what to look out for if you’re traveling in a tropical area. The bark is a reddish-gray, and the shiny leaves can be 2 to 4 inches long and 1 to 3 inches wide, laid out in an alternating pattern on the stem along with spikes of small yellowish-green flowers.

So, before you pick up what looks like a free afternoon snack or lean against a tree while exploring a tropical destination, stop and make sure it’s not the manchineel. Sure, it helps clean the air, offers shade and produces fruit — but this tree is one you’ll definitely want to love from afar.

Advertisement

Despite the risk, removing the manchineel and even using the harvested wood is possible. After burning it at the base (and standing far, far away), the fallen tree is dried in the sun until it’s safe to cut. The wood is then used to make beautifully unique — and safe — furniture.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top