• This is not the tree in question, but we imagine if it had a face it'd be angry. Photo by Donald Iain Smith (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Sometimes nature goes totally overboard with its toxic compounds.
By
Bianca Soldani

23 Jun 2016 - 1:16 PM  UPDATED 23 Jun 2016 - 3:39 PM

Even though there's no shortage of deadly flora and fauna in our own backyards, there's one tree on our planet that's just totally out of control.

This innocuous-looking fruit tree is found in the Caribbean, parts of Central and South America and Florida, and it is so toxic that it can seriously injure or even kill you - in more ways than one.

The manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella) is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the world’s most dangerous tree”, and in Spanish it's literally referred to as "the tree of death".

So what makes it so horrible?

It will literally rain acid on you

If a storm’s coming, the manchineel tree is not a place you'd want to run to for shelter. Its branches, bark, leaves and fruit all contain a sticky white sap that leaves scalding blisters and burns, inflammation and an extreme rash when it comes in contact with skin. So, first step of caution - do not touch it.

When it rains though, the situation gets even worse. One of the most potent toxins contained in the sap is phorbol, a powerful water-soluble irritant that is picked up by the falling rain and scattered on anyone standing underneath (you're better off just standing in the open and being rained on, seriously).

It gets worse if you're unlucky enough to look up and get a drop of the diluted sap in your eye; this could actually cause blindness.

The fruit is definitely forbidden

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the apple-like fruit that grows on the manchineel's branches has a very sweet smell, and looks harmless enough to the naked eye.

However, even a couple of bites immediately create an intense burning sensation in the mouth, as well as blisters and swelling in the throat. These effects can last for multiple hours and in some cases the consumption of the plum-sized fruit can also lead to death from severe vomiting and diarrhoea that fatally dehydrates the body.

Don't burn it, either

When gathering firewood for your campsite, this tree’s bark and branches are definitely ones to avoid. Burning pieces of the manchineel lets off a toxic smoke that can lead to severe eye inflammation, temporary blindness, and significant breathing problems.

Not to mention that the tree squirts its horrible sap when you cut its branches, leaving you exposed to the toxic substance directly.

It can make you sick just by being there

Speaking of camping, or picnicking for that matter, it isn’t wise to set up around manchineel trees - just being around them for prolonged periods of time can cause illness. In fact, some local native people used to tie enemies to the tree and leave them exposed as a form of torture.

Thankfully, these days in many places were the manchineel grows, they are marked by red crosses and warning plaques. 

Read these next
Tarantula venom could help develop new pain treatments
New research shows how toxins from spider venom can help us to better understand the mechanics behind pain.
Trees share vital goodies through a secret underground network
For the first time we've seen mature wild trees sharing carbon via their roots, and it turns out they share a lot more than previously thought.
What spying on trees can teach us about the climate
An Aussie scientist is setting up an international network of surveillance cameras to spy on trees and help us understand climate change.