Manchineel – how to identify this poisonous plant and diagnose/treat poisoning.
Spurge (Euphorbiaceae) Family
Description: The deadly Manchineel tree (sometimes written “manchioneel”) is a flowering tree reaching up to 15 meters (45 feet) high with greyish or brown, scaly or fissured bark and alternate, shiny green leaves and spikes of small greenish flowers. The Manchineel tree’s glossy leaves are alternately arranged on the stem and have a rounded base with pointed tips and smooth or slightly toothed edges that may be slightly bent upward. The leaves are shiny on the upper surface and dull and paler underneath. Leaves grow to 2-4 inches long and 1-3 inches wide. They have a single conspicuous main vein which bleeds a toxic milky sap in young plants. Its numerous small fruits are green or greenish-yellow when ripe, often tinged with red, and similar in appearance to an apple (hence their name, “death apple”). They typically grow to 1-2 inches in diameter with a large pithy pulp and a single large, wood-like seed at the center. The fruits smell like apples.
This tree is extremely toxic and is one of the most poisonous trees in the world. It causes severe dermatitis in most individuals after only 0.5 hour. Even smalls amounts of rain water dripping from the leaves may cause blistering on the skin. The smoke from burning it irritates the eyes and can cause blindness. No part of this plant should be considered a food. In civilian areas it is common to post signs warning the public to avoid contact with the tree.
Symptoms of poisoning include nausea and diarrhea followed by shock and severe muscle weakness. If eaten, the person may experience burning and swelling of the mouth and throat, nausea, diarrhea, severe stomach pain, and will be unable to swallow, talk, or breathe. Skin contact can causing blistering, burns, swelling, and inflammation.
It is believed that Arrowroot can be used as an antidote both as a suspension (if eaten) or as a topical ointment applied to external burns. Externally, use soap and water to remove the plant latex. Antihistamines may help if the plant was ingested.
Habitat and Distribution: The tree prefers coastal regions. It is found in south Florida, the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America and is common around sandy seashores or sometimes inland.
Other Uses: Some cultures use the sap from the tree to poison arrows or to poison the water supplies of their enemies.