As survivalists, it's advantageous for us to learn about naturally-occurring plant species, since various types of flora can provide renewable sources of food, water, cordage, and even medicine. It's OK to be a tree-hugger when one might end up saving your life. However, there are some species of plants that you'll want to avoid at all costs, as we have previously discussed in our “Devil's Greenhouse” article. These toxic and deadly plants may look unassuming, but if you eat or even touch them, you could become seriously ill.

The Manchineel fruit looks appealing at first glance. Photo: Dick Culbert/Flickr

The Manchineel fruit looks appealing at first glance. Photo: Dick Culbert/Flickr

At the very top of this list of dangerous plants is the Manchineel tree, a species native to Florida, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The Manchineel tree is also known as the Beach Apple, due to its similar leaf structure and tasty-looking small green fruits. In contrast to this appearance and friendly nickname, it's certainly not an apple tree, and should never be eaten from or even touched.

Machineel tree apple of death 2

Photo: Wikipedia

A more appropriate name for the tree comes from the Spanish language, where it is referred to as “la manzanilla de la muerte”, or “the little apple of death“. Even this name doesn't do justice to the extremely poisonous nature of the Manchineel tree, since the apple isn't the only dangerous part—literally every part of this tree contains strong toxins, some of which have not yet been identified. Here's a quick breakdown of some of the dangerous elements:

  • Fruit is reportedly “pleasantly sweet” at first, but soon progresses into an excruciating burning/tearing sensation, and causes an inability to swallow solid food. This may later result in gastrointestinal bleeding and bacterial infection.
  • Milky white sap contains skin irritants and can result in blistering of the skin on contact.
  • Touching the leaves can cause allergic reactions and rashes.
  • Exposure to smoke from burning the wood can cause blindness.
Machineel tree apple of death 1

Photo: Wikipedia

Even standing under the tree during a rainstorm can cause damage to the skin and eyes, as the water contains traces of sap from leaves and bark. Manchineel trees are sometimes marked with warning signs to tell passersby about the danger.

There is at least one known use for the Manchineel tree, however. Carib Indians frequently used sap to poison the tips of arrows, and also used the leaves to poison the water supply of their enemies. For more information on this “Apple of Death”, check out this article from Atlas Obscura.

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