So you run for the strip of woods at the edge of the shady beach. As raindrops dimple the sandy beach, a few make their way through the leaves above you and fall lightly on your arm.
That’s when your skin begins to sizzle – because you’re standing underneath the world’s most dangerous tree.
The Spanish call the manchineel tree “arbol de la muerte”, meaning “tree of death”, and the scientific name, Hippomane mancinella, comes from the Greek words for “horse” and “madness.”
A tree of death that can drive horses to madness makes it pretty clear that this isn’t a piece of nature you want to mess with.
“Interaction with and ingestion of any part of this tree may be lethal,” warns the Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
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The milky-white sap, or latex, contains a complex mosaic of chemical compounds, not all of which have even been identified yet, David Wells says in Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean.
It’s this sap that’s mixing with rainwater and tearing up your skin as you shelter underneath, but it’s the small green fruit hanging from the branches that will really kill you.
The Spanish also call the tree “manzanilla de la muerte,” which means “little apple of death.” The tree’s fruit look like small, green apples, but eating them is a really, really bad idea.
British radiologist Nicola Strickland and a friend unwittingly sampled the fruit of the manchineel tree while on vacation in Tobago, with horrifying results. Though the fruit tasted slightly sweet at first, she told the British Medical Journal, things quickly went downhill.
“Later we noticed a strange peppery feeling in our mouths, which gradually progressed to a burning, tearing sensation and tightness of the throat. The symptoms worsened over a couple of hours until we could barely swallow solid food because of the excruciating pain and the feeling of a huge obstructing pharyngeal lump.”
Strickland says locals reacted with “frank horror and incredulity” to her story, not surprisingly, as Caribbean natives have known the poisonous properties of this tree for centuries.
According to an article published in the West Indian Medical Journal, historic accounts reveal that the Carib Indians used the sap to poison their arrowheads and the leaves to taint the drinking supply of their enemies.
Manchineel trees even resist efforts to eradicate them. Since you can’t touch them without suffering horrible burns, you might think burning them down would help. You can, but it’s a bad idea, the BBC reports. The smoke from a burning manchineel cantemporarily blind a person and cause significant breathing problems.
So you can’t eat its, fruit, you can’t touch it, you can’t stand under it when it rains and you can’t burn it down. It’s no wonder that the Guiness Book of World Records made it official back in 2011. This really is the world’s most dangerous tree.