|1. Life / The Natural World / Plants|
The Manchineel Tree
The manchineel tree (Species: Hippomane mancinella, Family: Euphorbiaceae) got its name from the Spanish 'manzanilla' which means 'little apple.' The fruit and leaves of the tree resemble those of an apple tree. However, the manchineel tree is a very poisonous plant and should be avoided as far as possible. It has a reputation as being the most dangerous tree around.
Description and Habitat
The 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 are green or greenish-yellow when ripe.
The manchineel tree can be found near to (and on) coastal beaches throughout the Caribbean and in Central America. It provides excellent natural windbreaks and its roots stabilise the sand, thus helping to prevent beach erosion.
How Poisonous is it?
Contact with the manchineel tree can cause severe medical problems. The milky sap causes blistering, burns, and inflammation when in contact with the skin, mucous membranes1, and eyes.
In many places the tree carries a warning sign alerting people to the dangers. In other places, a red 'X' painted on the trunk serves as a warning. Despite this, many people are treated every year after some sort of contact with this tree. Children, especially, need to be warned. After all, they can easily be fooled by the sweet-smelling, plum-sized fruit.
So if you are on holiday in the Caribbean and you see a manchineel tree - do not touch it, do not put your beach chair under it and do not shelter under it when it rains. Most importantly, do not let your children near it.
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