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Manzanilla de la muerte, little apple of death
January 31, 2014 10:44 AM   Subscribe

The world is full of poisonous plants, but they often provide some form of warning. For example, Datura stramonium (Jimson weed) seed pods are covered in spikes and the plant has been described as having a “noxious” odor, especially the blossoms, but others aren't so considerate. For instance, don't eat the little "beach apples", even if they smell and taste sweet. Better yet, stay away from the entire tree, as all portions of the manchineel tree are poisonous.

The manchineel tree, Hippomane mancinella, is is native to Florida in the United States, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America. The tree can be found near to, and on, coastal beaches, where it provides natural windbreaks and its roots stabilize the sand, thus helping to prevent beach erosion. But stay away - some report that even being near the tree is sufficient to feel its effects (Google books preview), as reported there in the Bulletin of Pharmacy, Volume XII (1898), and seen in L'africaine, a grand opera that premiered in 1865. You can read more about the negative, and potentially positive, effects (Google books preview) in Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean by David W. Nellis.

If you find the toxicity of plants interesting, you might enjoy Opera and Poison - A Secret and Enjoyable Approach to Teaching and Learning Chemistry (PDF; abstract), or you could visit one of the poison gardens found around and about, such as the the poison garden that is hidden behind the Blarney Castle battlements, or the poison garden at the Alnwick Garden, curated in part by the Duchess of Northumberland, Jane Percy.
posted by filthy light thief (25 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
A Poison Tree

By William Blake

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole,
When the night had veild the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
posted by yoink at 10:47 AM on January 31 [5 favorites]


And then we have the durian, which provides lots of "do not eat" warnings (even though it's not poisionous). Seed pods with thick, spiky husks, that require significant effort (and usually sharp tools) to break open. Strong, unpleasant odor. The pulp inside is an unattractive color and texture, with a taste that's quite offputting (until you acquire a taste for it).

What do people do? They eat it. Lots of it.
posted by evilangela at 10:49 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


until you acquire a taste for it

I enjoyed it the first time I had it, so did my 2 and 4 year olds. The stench really is off putting though.

jackfruit is another "do not touch" fruit that's really good
posted by Dr. Twist at 11:01 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I think that I shall never see
a poem as pois'nous as that tree
posted by Iridic at 11:10 AM on January 31


Note: DO NOT EAT STRANGE FRUITS.

Has Greek mythology taught us *nothing*?
posted by maryr at 11:14 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Neat post! I lived in the Carribean for a few years, both in the BVI and down through the eastern Carribean. These things are suuuper common but it's also very common knowledge not to ingest. A lot of places (esp. spots prone to tourists) do in fact have the signs up warning you not to partake. While you don't want to hang your hammock under a manchineel for the night, I would disagree that it's dangerous simply to stand around them.
posted by stinkfoot at 11:15 AM on January 31


Seriously, what kind of jackass picks up a random fruit that he finds in a foreign country, and takes a bite? I thought that was something that everyone learned as a toddler, and here we have a grown radiologist just eating unknown things off the ground.
posted by Edgewise at 11:16 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


The scent of fresh Jimson weed blossoms is pure heaven. That anyone would find it "noxious" mystifies me.
posted by newmoistness at 11:25 AM on January 31


From the manchineel tree link, "Mucous membranes (such as the red margins of the lips or eyes, or anus) are particularly subject to its poisonous effect."

The question that comes to mind is whether that's just pulled from a standard list of examples of mucous membranes, or is there a specific case study being referenced there.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:35 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I was kind of wondering that myself, CBrachyrhynchos. I expect the fruit isn't good going in or coming out, but I could be wrong.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:43 AM on January 31


That tree exists as a basic F.U. to everybody else. Eat my fruit? SUFFER. Break a limb or twig of mine? SUFFER. Burn my wood? SUFFER.
posted by Atreides at 11:55 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, you don't want to imagine colonial military grunts experimenting with random plants and their butts and ending up seeing the doctor. On the other hand...

Well, let's just say don't eat or shake hands with that hand.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:56 AM on January 31


So, this guy eats an unknown foreign fruit (1) , develops a burning sensation making it hard to swallow (2), and decides to chase it down with alcohol (3).

1 - PAGING DARWIN, CHARLES DARWIN TO THE COURTESY PHONE

2 - NO MEDICAL ASSISTANCE IS REQUESTED. I REPEAT: NO MEDICAL ASSISTANCE IS REQUESTED FROM THE GENTLEMAN GASPING FOR AIR.

3 - PLEASE tell me he hasn't reproduced. That is an inferior genetic line, and needs to end now.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:16 PM on January 31


"I saw what I called 'flat rabbits' all over the ground. Imagine a rabbit, run over by a steam roller like in Mad Magazine, but the heads not smashed. The rabbits were staring at me like their tortured condition was my fault. They couldn't move, they just whistled real loud."
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:54 PM on January 31


And then we have the durian, which provides lots of "do not eat" warnings (even though it's not poisionous). Seed pods with thick, spiky husks, that require significant effort (and usually sharp tools) to break open. Strong, unpleasant odor. The pulp inside is an unattractive color and texture, with a taste that's quite offputting (until you acquire a taste for it).

The first person to ever consider eating the fruit was probably tipped off by the fact that squirrels and birds eat the stuff. I thought that was a loose rule of the jungle--the plants plants animals eat *may* safe for humans to consume.
posted by peripathetic at 12:55 PM on January 31


In my experience manchineel isn't so dangerous to touch, but I have gotten small burns from trimming through it when sweaty.
posted by snofoam at 1:14 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Very nice allusion, yoink-- and I'd be surprised if you haven't unearthed a previously unknown source of inspiration for that poem!

Blake published the first edition of Songs of Experience in 1794, which included A Poison Tree, and according to the Wikipedia article filthy light thief linked, Nicholas Cresswell was putting down an account of his experience with the manchineel tree in his diary in 1774.

I don't have a publication date for Cresswell's diary, and I doubt Blake would have been able to see it even if it had been published prior to Songs of Experience, but Blake was fascinated by America, and Gardens (and poisons), there was immense interest in plants of the New World in England generally at the time, and it seems quite probable to me Blake had heard something about such a striking and strikingly malignant tree.
posted by jamjam at 1:18 PM on January 31


I thought that was a loose rule of the jungle--the plants plants animals eat *may* safe for humans to consume.

What you should then do is take a chunk and hold it between your teeth and lower lip for 5 minutes to see if anything unusual happens.

I learned this in a team building workshop at my office. They also asked us to figure out the best way to call for a help if lost in a forest and the best way to avoid poisonous snakes in tall grass. I'm not sure what they were planning on having us do with these skills. The theme was disconcerting.
posted by maryr at 1:25 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]


Very nice allusion, yoink-- and I'd be surprised if you haven't unearthed a previously unknown source of inspiration for that poem!

Perhaps. I'd be skeptical, in fact, that Blake has any real tree in mind. Southey alludes directly to the manchineel in The Curse of Kehama--where he has it as a kind of equivalent to the more famous Upas Tree which supposedly kills everything in its shade. So it was definitely taken up in literary circles in the period--but Blake's tree seems to me so clearly symbolic that any direct natural reading would strike me as dubious.
posted by yoink at 1:36 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Blake thought everything was symbolic: "... for everything that lives is holy."
posted by jamjam at 1:44 PM on January 31




Gimpy gimpy tree, you can eat the fruit, but it isn't worth it

There are only a handful of natural toxins capable of producing mind-destroying levels of pain. I'm not talking about pain secondary to tissue damage or inflammation, but pain that is produced directly, by targeting the body's own nociceptive pathways. Platypus venom is one of them. The Gympie-Gympie tree (Dendrocnide moroides) is another.

This tree can turn people into writhing, screaming animals for weeks. This tree has driven people to suicide. You do not fuck with this tree.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:55 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


"The scent of fresh Jimson weed blossoms is pure heaven. That anyone would find it 'noxious' mystifies me."

Yeah, I've never knowingly encountered any of the datura varieties, but some of them are cultivated as ornamentals and I thought the flowers were nice-smelling.

Anyway, I've probably mentioned this before, but at erowid and elsewhere I've read numerous trip reports of people who've ingested datura, and they are utterly fascinating and, as far as I can tell, unique or nearly so.

Everyone hates the experience; all are uniformly awful and often traumatic and not-infrequently dangerous. But not only that, the full-on delusional hallucinations that some people experience very commonly have themes of pure evil. People believe they are being chased by demons, visited by the devil, pursued by vicious murderers.

I don't know why I find this weirdly surprising because obviously when there are psychoactives that impact parts of the brain that involve pleasure and contentment there would also be psychoactives that impact parts of the brain involving pain and fear and terror. Why not? It still kind of amazes me.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:24 AM on February 1


I'd really like to know what it tastes like beyond "pleasantly sweet".
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:07 AM on February 1


dephlogisticated: " This tree can turn people into writhing, screaming animals for weeks. This tree has driven people to suicide. You do not fuck with this tree."

As a wimpy North American urban tenderfoot, I don't know how humans have survived in Australia. Seriously. When you look up "most poisonous [x] in the world", how often is it not from Australia?

Ivan Fyodorovich: " Yeah, I've never knowingly encountered any of the datura varieties, but some of them are cultivated as ornamentals and I thought the flowers were nice-smelling."

Yeah, Brugmansia ("Angel's Trumpet") is not uncommon in our neighborhood, and is both pretty and smells lovely. Unfortunately, "All parts of Brugmansia are poisonous".
posted by Lexica at 7:27 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


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