Plants That Kill: The Little Apple of Death

Adapted from page 118 of Plants That Kill:

The manchineel tree is found from the coast of Mexico south through Central America to Colombia and Venezuela, as well as in the West Indies and Florida. Its caustic properties soon became known to European explorers of the New World, who encountered the tree on beaches. In the sixteenth century, Oviedo noted its danger in his book on the natural history of the West Indies (which incidentally also included the first illustration of a pineapple): 

It has been proved many times that if men carelessly lie down to sleep under the trees, when they rise after a short nap there is a great pain in the head and swelling of the eyes and cheeks. And if by chance the dew from the tree falls on the face, it is like fire, blistering and burning the skin wherever it touches; and if it falls in the eye it blinds or burns them, and the sight is endangered. If the wood is burned no one can endure it long, for it causes much heaviness, and such headaches that all stand away from it, be they man or any other animal.

Leafy branches and immature fruit of the manchineel (Hippomane mancinella), also known as manzanita de la muerte, literally ‘little apple of death’, are a risk for unwary visitors to tropical beaches. Photo Credit: Rob Matthews, Alamy Stock Photo

Since then, numerous graphic accounts of the symptoms that result from skin or eye contact with the latex of the manchineel tree have been published, so we can be left in no doubt of the harm the species can cause. In addition, it produces deceptively apple-like fruit, which are 3–5 cm (1–2 in) in diameter, and when ripe are yellowish green with flushed red cheeks and an aromatic, pleasant-tasting yellow flesh. These, too, can cause contact reactions, and eating the fruit is even more disastrous, as doing so irritates the mouth, throat and digestive tract; deaths have occurred.

Plants That Kill: A Natural History of the World’s Most Poisonous Plants
By Elizabeth A. Dauncey & Sonny Larsson

This richly illustrated book provides an in-depth natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth, covering everything from the lethal effects of hemlock and deadly nightshade to the uses of such plants in medicine, ritual, and chemical warfare.

Featuring hundreds of color photos and diagrams throughout, Plants That Kill explains how certain plants evolved toxicity to deter herbivores and other threats and sheds light on their physiology and the biochemistry involved in the production of their toxins. It discusses the interactions of poisonous plants with other organisms–particularly humans—and explores the various ways plant toxins can target the normal functioning of bodily systems in mammals, from the effects of wolfsbane on the heart to toxins that cause a skin reaction when combined with the sun’s rays. This intriguing book also looks at plants that can harm you only if your exposure to them is prolonged, the ethnobotany of poisons throughout human history, and much more.

A must for experts and armchair botanists alike, Plants That Kill is the essential illustrated compendium to these deadly and intriguing plants.

  • Provides an authoritative natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth
  • Features hundreds of color illustrations throughout
  • Looks at how and why plants produce toxins
  • Describes the effects of numerous poisonous plants, from hemlock and deadly nightshade to poppies and tobacco
  • Explains poisonous plants’ evolution, survival strategies, physiology, and biochemistry
  • Discusses the uses of poisonous plants in medicine, rituals, warfare, and more
This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< Plants That Kill: Deadly nightshade, black henbane & witchcraftPlants That Kill: Capsaicin >>