Kenneth Setzer

Found: The Big, Bad Manchineel Tree

Watch out! Poisonous tree!

I found it!

In my earlier Post on the poisonous Manchineel tree, I had yet to find the specimen supposedly growing at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. I returned on October 21, 2011, and walked back to the far reaches of the place, where I had been before and seen nothing in the way of poisonous trees.

This time, I saw the sign. I know it wasn’t there on my first trip, and judging from its crisp condition, it hasn’t seen much South Florida rain and sun yet (could Fairchild personnel have read my blog, and set it all up for my benefit?). I was naturally really thrilled to be able to encounter a venenosa arbor to make Livia the Poisoner envious.

I approached it slowly, as though it could attack or flee if startled. I was alone, and pleasantly a little creeped out. It’s amazing how many plants and plant parts can make us sick, but how many times is there a sign warning of potential tree hazards?

If you doubt the potency of its poison, consider an article published in Biotropica (Vol. 13, No. 3 (Sep., 1981), pp. 224-227). In “Three Experiences with the Manchineel,” author Richard Howard cites unpleasant Manchineel encounters all the way back to 1526. The most vivid, in my male opinion, are issues U.S. troops had in Panama during WWII: “manchineel leaves used as a substitute for toilet paper produced peri-anal irritation, and fruits stored in swimming trunks caused scrotal involvement” (p.225). Ouch. Scrotal involvement — rarely a good thing.

Leaf of the Manchineel Tree

The leaves are innocuous-looking things, smooth and somewhat glossy, but I managed to avoid touching any when setting up a tripod to document one.

The bark is also fairly mundane looking compared to the spiky bark of Silk Floss Trees, or even the glossy Gumbo Limbo. The fruit, for which the tree is named (“little apple”), looks a lot like a Key Lime. Characteristically, the Manchineel at Fairchild grows on the banks of a lake, and being closely surrounded by other foliage, I couldn’t get a good sense of its shape. It’s almost as though it didn’t want me to get a photo of its entirety. See for yourself, but DON’T TOUCH!

There's a Manchineel Tree in there Somewhere

Little Apple: Manchineel Fruit

Bark of the Manchineel Tree

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This entry was posted on November 4, 2011 by in biology, botany, Discovery, imaging, natural history, nature, photography, poison, tree, tropical and tagged , , , , , , , .

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