Tree Safety Tips for Tropical Travelers | Manchineel

The manchineel (also know as “beach apple,” ‘the manzanilla de la muerte,’ ‘Hippomane mancinella’ or ‘death apple’) is a yellowish-green fruit that is not to be eaten. “The world’s most dangerous apple” exists and thrives in places called ‘paradise’ – another lesson for life. Both the sap from the tree/bark/leaves and the fruit itself are poisonous and it’s not advised to linger under the tree when it’s raining heavily. This seaside or mangrove tree can grow as a bush or a tree, sometimes up to 50ft tall. The roots are thick and branches tend to reach for one another, weaving in and out like basketry (photo on that coming up.)

Manchineels are tough and one is about the size of a table-tennis of golf ball. When a few start dropping from the trees, there will be a whole set scattered under and around the bottom of the tree within a few days. May the remnant be encouraged by what happens to this ‘apple of death.’

Indigenous people in The Americas and The Caribbean didn’t use n*clear weapons that could destroy nations and oceans; they used the acid in the manchineel right there on the land and laced arrows to ward off and weaken enemies. To me this means it can be handled and I’ve been under the tree in rain and rested towels on branches like normal – not showing off just saying – but because of some people’s curiosity and this odd place called ‘online’ this post shares only warnings not invitations or bait to mess with manchineels.

Bright green fine-lined leaves from many branches often connect to form a canopy to provide shade and a cool spot on hot sunny days. Though this tree makes a lovely leaf umbrella, try not to lean on it or interfere with the leaves especially during or after rain.

The bark is ancient-looking and meanders wizened branches wherever it has room to reach. The tree or bark has a high tolerance for blazing sun.

In Barbados, many popular fishing waiting spots are under a manchineel tree here and there along the shore, but people avoid the actual fruit itself. They are regularly seen at the base of the tree or close by on the ground or sand, falling intermittently like round missiles from overhanging branches. The one on the ‘low side’ of Miami Beach (officially called ‘Enterprise Beach‘) has some size and people sit under it all the time since there’s just a sliver of sand on that side, but no one eats them or stays under the tree for long when the rain’ comes down hard. The thick branches have to be pruned every now and then to make room on the sand to sit down or walk across. Pruned stumps and some of the lower branches are sturdy enough to hold a heavy beach bag or groceries if you don’t want to rest yours on the sand when you go into the water for a seabath.

The manchineel tree is deemed the most poisonous tree on earth by many, so I wonder how come so many of them are sprinkled around , South America, The Caribbean and parts of Florida.

The “beach apple” is almost as popular along beaches as the sea grape waterside tree (turns out its really a seaweed) that has a much smaller and actually edible fruit. Much like mosquitoes (something that often petrifies new visitors to the island) many people from Barbados are aware of the danger of manchineels yet exist unaffected being around them although there’s no formal education or media messaging on it. Thank the Most High for that. Most children seem to inherently understand to stay away from the manchineel fruit while on the other hand, so many seasonal fruits are popular for the picking, from mangoes, ‘dunks,’ ‘hog’ plums and Bajan cherries, to soursop, tamarinds, paw paw, guavas and breadfruit. There might be some good use for some part of the plant that hasn’t yet reached this side of the map but given the name, curiosity after well-steeped warnings isn’t worth more than common sense or discernment. That said, as long as God made it it must be for a purpose and it’s us who hasn’t yet discerned what for. Boat building…? It might not be for us to know ’til we need to know…so we’ll leave it there for now.

For anybody visiting, I hope this comes in handy when you’re enjoying the beaches. Fear will do everything but help anything so don’t feed it – just avoid messing around manchineel trees and educate your little ones so they don’t get hurt and enjoy the sand safely.

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