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The manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella) is a species of flowering plant in the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). It is native to tropical southern North America and northern South America.

The name "manchineel" (sometimes written "manchioneel") as well as the specific epithet mancinella is from Spanish manzanilla ("little apple"), from the superficial resemblance of its fruit and leaves to those of an apple tree. A present-day Spanish name is Template:Lang, "little apple of death". This refers to the fact that manchineel is one of the most dangerous trees in the world. Manchineel is also known as the beach apple.<ref name=":0">Template:Cite journal</ref>


Manchineel is native to the Caribbean, the U.S. state of Florida, The Bahamas, Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.<ref>Template:GRIN</ref>

The manchineel tree can be found on coastal beaches and in brackish swamps where it grows among mangroves. It provides excellent natural windbreaks and its roots stabilize the sand, thus helping to prevent beach erosion.


Hippomane mancinella, the evergreen manchineel tree, grows up to Template:Convert tall. It has reddish-greyish bark, small greenish-yellow flowers, and shiny green leaves. The leaves are simple, alternate, very finely serrated or toothed, and Template:Convert long.

Spikes of small greenish flowers are followed by fruits, which are similar in appearance to an apple, are green or greenish-yellow when ripe. The fruit is poisonous, as is every other part of the tree.


All parts of the tree contain strong toxins, some unidentified.<ref name=":1">Template:Cite web</ref> Its milky white sap contains phorbol and other skin irritants, producing strong allergic contact dermatitis.<ref name="Nellis1997">Template:Cite book</ref> Standing beneath the tree during rain will cause blistering of the skin from mere contact with this liquid (even a small drop of rain with the milky substance in it will cause the skin to blister). The sap has also been known to damage the paint on cars.<ref name=":2">Template:Cite web</ref> Burning the tree may cause ocular injuries if the smoke reaches the eyes.<ref name=":3">Template:Cite web</ref> Contact with its milky sap (latex) produces bullous dermatitis, acute keratoconjunctivitis and possibly large corneal epithelial defects.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>

The fruit is possibly fatal if eaten; however, "fatalities from ingestion are not reported in the modern literature"<ref>Bygbjerg I.C. and H.K. Johansen (1991): "Manchineel poisoning complicated by streptococcal pharyngitis and impetigo". Ugeskr. Laeger 154(1), 27–28.</ref> and "ingestion may produce severe gastroenteritis with bleeding, shock, bacterial superinfection, and the potential for airway compromise due to edema. Patients with a history of ingestion and either oropharyngeal burns or gastrointestinal symptoms should be evaluated for admission into hospital. Care is supportive."<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

When ingested, the fruit is reportedly "pleasantly sweet" at first, with a subsequent "strange peppery feeling ..., gradually progress[ing] to a burning, tearing sensation and tightness of the throat". Symptoms continue to worsen until the patient can "barely swallow solid food because of the excruciating pain and the feeling of a huge obstructing pharyngeal lump".<ref name=":0" />

In some parts of its range, many trees carry a warning sign (for example on Curaçao), while others are marked with a red "X" on the trunk to indicate danger. In the French Antilles the trees are often marked with a painted red band a few feet above the ground. On Bonaire, however, trees are unmarked.Template:Citation needed

Although the plant is toxic to many birds and other animals, the black-spined iguana (Ctenosaura similis) is known to eat the fruit and even live among the limbs of the tree.<ref name=":1" />

The tree contains 12-deoxy-5-hydroxyphorbol-6-gamma-7-alpha-oxide, hippomanins, mancinellin, and sapogenin, phloracetophenone-2,4-dimethylether is present in the leaves, while the fruits possess physostigmine.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

A poultice of arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea) was used by the Arawak and Taíno as an antidote against such poisons.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> The Caribs were also known to poison the water supply of their enemies with the leaves.<ref name=":3" /> Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León died shortly after an injury incurred in battle with the Calusa in Florida—being struck by an arrow that had been poisoned with manchineel sap.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>


Despite the inherent dangers associated with handling it, the tree has been used as a source of timber by Caribbean carpenters for centuries. It must be cut and left to dry in the sun to remove the sap. A gum can be produced from the bark which reportedly treats edema, while the dried fruits have been used as a diuretic.<ref name=":2" />


The manchineel tree is listed as an endangered species in Florida.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Literary and artistic references

William Ellis, ship's surgeon for James Cook on his third and final voyage, wrote: "On the fourth, a party of men were sent to cut wood, as the island apparently afforded plenty of that article; amongst other trees they unluckily cut down several of the manchineel, the juice of which getting into their eyes, rendered them blind for several days."<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

Alexandre Exquemelin, author of the book The Buccaneers of America wrote of his experience with the "tree called mancanilla, or dwarf-apple-tree" when in Hispaniola (modern day Haiti/Dominican Republic): "One day being hugely tormented with mosquitoes or gnats, and as yet unacquainted with the nature of this tree, I cut a branch thereof, to serve me instead of a fan, but all my face swelled the next day and filled with blisters, as if it were burnt to such a degree that I was blind for three days."<ref>The Buccaneers of America; Part I, Chapter IV</ref> The young first-person narrator in Sid Fleischman's famous pirate-ship tale "The Ghost in the Noonday Sun" also encounters this tree in like fashion, breaking a branch from the tree to swish biting insects, and soon suffering similar devastating consequences that last for several days.

Nicholas Cresswell, in his journal entry for Friday, September 16, 1774, mentions: "The Mangeneel Apple has the smell and appearance of an English Apple, but small, grows on large trees, generally along the Seashore. They are rank poison. I am told that one apple is sufficient to kill 20 people. This poison is of such a malignant nature that a single drop of rain or dew that falls from the tree upon your skin will immediately raise a blister. Neither Fruit or Wood is of any use, that I can learn."<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

Rodolphe, a character in Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1857, Part 2, Chapter XIII), refers to the "poisonous shade of the fatal manchineel tree" in a letter to Emma Bovary: "Nor had I reflected upon this at first, and I rested in the shade of that ideal happiness as beneath that of the manchineel tree, without foreseeing the consequences." [translation]

In Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera L'Africaine (1865), the heroine Sélika dies by inhaling the perfume of the poisonous blossoms of the manchineel tree.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

In the story "The Beckoning Hand" (in the 1887 collection of that name) by Grant Allen, manchineel is used in a cigarette to poison the smoke.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

In the 1958 film Wind Across the Everglades, a notorious poacher named Cottonmouth (played by Burl Ives) ties a victim to the trunk of a manchineel tree.<ref name = White-2014> Template:Cite book</ref>Template:Rp

The tree is recorded as the world's most dangerous tree by the Guinness World Records.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

See also



External links

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