“It’s like drinking Drano!”
… That’s what our Everglades boat tour guide told us what eating the fruit of the infamous manchineel tree would feel like. While I’ll never be able to confirm that extreme statement myself, the manchineel tree could very well be the most poisonous tree in the world.
For Spring Break this year, I set out to road trip down to the Everglades with some of my favorite people. One burst tire and an 18-hour car ride later, we finally arrived in Florida. Let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like finally being able to wear shorts after spending winter in Pennsylvania. When we arrived at our campsite late at night, we received an welcome. The sky above us freckled with stars beyond imagine. It was so dark that we could see the sparkling river of stars making up the Milky Way. While it was an incredible sight, the highlight for me during the trip was seeing the incredible natural beauty offered in the forests and marshes here on Earth.
We explored the trails and saw tons of beautiful vegetation. On a boat tour of the river, our guide pointed out the manchineel Tree. It is an endangered, native plant of South Florida and our tour guide said it had a nasty reputation. At first, we thought he was just hyping up the danger of this tree to make the tour more exciting. But then, he told us that natives in the area used it to coat their arrows with so that their enemies would die a slow, painful death. The tree is so infamous for its poisonous effect, in fact, that the Spanish dubbed it the manzanilla de la muerte – the little apple of death – referring to the toxicity of its fruit.
Watch out Snow White – this little apple can be fatal with a single bite!
However, the manchineel’s fruit isn’t the only thing to look out for. Every part of this tree can be lethal to any creature (or human) unfortunate enough to come across it. Touching or ingesting the leaves, bark, or sap causes scorching burns. In fact, you don’t even have to touch the tree to get hurt! Even standing underneath the tree as it rains will burn you (or your car) as the sap washes off the branches. And even if you don’t die then and there, the toxins found in the manchineel can also be carcinogenic and cause tumors down the line. Pleasant, right?
It’s not all bad though. Caribbean carpenters use the dried park as timber and for medicinal gum, and the dried fruits can be used as a diuretic.
When I first came to the Everglades, I thought all I had to be scared of were crocs and snakes! I learned a lot on that tour, most facts a lot more pleasant than this! But I thought it was amazing that such a tree exists right here in the U.S., and this experience just reminds me that nature isn’t just something for us to dominate and control… it can have a bite of its own.
I’d highly recommend visiting the Everglades – its beautiful and extremely accessible to everyone (even most trails are wheelchair friendly!). Just watch out for the manchineel… and cheeky vultures.