Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dat Tree Rite Dere...It be Poison!

One would think that sailing around in the Caribbean in heavy winds, wild currents, and bashing seas would be the most dangerous thing we sailors do.... 

When we visited the little Grenadian island of Carriacou (pronounced 'Carry-A-Koo'), I found out that there was something even more dangerous out here! 
An island elder was watching me from across the road as I

was walking around near the beach under a perfectly beautiful shade tree.  

I wondering about the little fruit all around it on the ground.  They looked like little apples. (Now, I have traveled enough in foreign countries to know not to EVER eat anything on an island that you do not know what it is. No danger there, right??). The older gentleman said "ya need to step away from dat tree rite dere... it be poison and can keel ya or at least burn ya. Don eat dos apples and git yo'sef out from under it. It be called a mash-eel tree."  I heeded his instructions immediately.

Whaaaat? I thought to myself, "What kind of island folklore is this???" 

Well, my interest was piqued (as well as my realization of my possible brush with death), so as soon as I got back to the boat, I looked up the "mash eel tree" on the internet and read all about it! Folklore, indeed! This is one serious tree...it currently holds the Guinness record for world’s most dangerous tree!

The Manchineel Tree (pronounced "man-she-Kneel") is named after the Spanish word for “little apple,” which is manzanilla. The tree has green fruits that look like small apples. But it also has another, more appropriate Spanish name, the arbol de la muerta, or “tree of death.” 

Even though in some areas it's little more than a bush, the Manchineel Trees in Carriacou are 30 to 50 feet tall. (The better to kill you with, my dear!) They found mainly in the Caribbean and Central America, but are also found in the SE United States. It has greyish-brown bark and shiny green leaves and cute little apples. 

Every part of the tree is poisonous, and just coming in contact with the tree can be potentially lethal. The leaves and bark contain a poison that will irritate the skin and cause severe blisters. The milk-white sap from the tree will also cause severe blistering. If sap touches a person’s mucous membranes, it can cause severe burns.

The fruit makes the tree even more deadly. The fruits look like small green apples, only an inch or two in diameter. The fruits are very sweet-smelling, and those who are brave—or crazy, or ignorant—enough to eat them say that they even taste good. But eating just a small amount will leave blisters and burns on your mouth and throat. In addition, the raw, soft tissues of the digestive tract will begin to swell and blister after eating just the smallest bite of the fruit. Larger amounts are deadly.

As if that isn’t enough, the tree can also cause serious damage if you so much as stand under it. If it’s raining, water falling off the leaves will carry toxins and burn the skin of anyone it touches. Even a small drop of rain with the milky substance in it will cause the skin to blister. Imagine that! And there I was, cooling off under the shade of the poison tree. Rain can come at any time in the islands...Yes, I had a brief brush with death... well, blistering, at the very least!

Many indigenous peoples have used the poisonous, deadly tree to their advantage. The sap of the Manchineel Tree was often used for poisoning arrows and darts, which in turn were used to control captives. Tying people to the tree and leaving them with any exposed skin would result in excruciating pain and burns. Yikes! These folks didn't mess around!

Why don't the islanders just cut down the trees if they are that deadly, you may ask?? The trees provide excellent natural windbreaks and its roots stabilize the sand, thus helping to prevent beach erosion. Removing the tree from populated areas proves problematic. Cutting the tree releases the squirting, spraying sap, and burning the tree turns the toxins into a vaporous form that’s carried in the smoke. Even contact with the smoke can leave burns on the skin and can sometimes result in blindness. 

Now, here's the difference in thinking between a laid-back island in the Caribbean and the United States. If this was in the States, as soon as one arrived on shore, there would be posters, fliers, legal agreements with disclaimers, cartwheeling lawyers, and all manner of paperwork one had to sign alerting about the dangers of the local tree of death before entering the country. In Carriacou, there was nary a sign or flier in sight at the Customs and Immigration check-in.  Ah, the unfettered simple life.

However, the next day, we went to shore at a different dock and I actually found a warning sign!

Looks like someone felt sorry for the tourists after all! 

A laid-back island disclaimer, if you will. 

Beware, indeed! I plan to be a little more on my toes in the future when I see a "beware" sign!

Reference: www.knowledgenuts.com, www.wikipedia.com


Unknown said...

Thanx for the heads up ... !!

Marinam's 8 Knowledge Blogs said...

Amazing what you have encountered. I used your article in my sources about the Machineel tree.

Janice Morse said...

Unfortunately...I am one if those dunb people who took a bite out of one of these apples yesterday. I thought I was having an allergic reaction. It wasn't until I told a friend what happened that she informed me that ut sounded ├▒uke manchineel (which indeed it was) and I had burned my mouth and back of throat. Luckily I didnt swallow it. My tounge is now a bit numb and my throat hurts. I can’t seem to find a remedy. My mom said to eat honey. Well...learned that lesson the hard way. I got off lucky.