May 8, 2001
5:33 AM   Subscribe

A new Darwin Award candidate? "[Henry] Elrod's death certificate lists the cause as multiple organ failure from 'voluntary ingestion of China berries.' Indigenous to Asia, China berry trees produce berries, flowers and bark so toxic that six to eight berries have been known to kill a person." This guy ate them for 19 days while on holiday. He even took some home.
posted by Cuppatea (19 comments total)
I am sorry, but where I come from, you do not eat anything from a wild plant unless you absolutely KNOW what it is. I was taught that and reminded that ever since I can remember.

Figures they are suing. Nobody wants to take responsibility for their own actions anymore. It was his own damn fault.
posted by da5id at 5:57 AM on May 8, 2001

"The Florida Poison Control Center receives calls from people who have tasted the berry, but they tend to spit it out because of the bitter taste and burning sensation caused by the toxin. “More often than not, our calls are about kids,” said Peggy Reindl, a certified specialist in poison information. “It's a good rule to just not put something in your mouth if you don't know what you're ingesting.” [emphasis mine]

I feel bad for his family's loss, but please, the man was 47 -- surely if he was old enough to start a family, he should've been responsible enough to not eat unidentifed berries.
posted by lia at 6:05 AM on May 8, 2001

Dude, you have got to be one stupid mofo to eat something you know nothing about that's growing in the wild. It is kind of odd, I think, that he was able to survive for weeks before he died. Wouldn't you think he would have experienced the symptoms of poisoning and stopped. This case gets a Darwin Awards thumbs-up (although it still doesn't beat out the case where that idiot ice fisher took his golden retriever and some dynamite with him. You can guess what happened when he threw the dynamite out on the ice to clear a hole...).
posted by prototype_octavius at 6:13 AM on May 8, 2001

I would be terribly disappointed to hear that any insurance company would cave in and pay out for something like this. If I were his family, I would be a little sheepish about trying to blame anyone else for his stupidity. I guess the fact that he already has sired offspring disqualifies him from the real Darwin award, but maybe he merits an honorary one. If the family deserves anything, it would be something along the lines of a remedial program to address the genetic deficiency he left the children with.
posted by SteveS at 6:14 AM on May 8, 2001

This reminds me of the time when my dad and uncle were clearing a lot to build a house. They cut down a hemlock tree (!), and then my uncle proceeded to chew on a big hemlock twig (!) for the rest of the day. He was in the hospital for 2 or 3 days, I think. It was amazing - both his stupidity and the fact that he survived.
posted by starvingartist at 6:25 AM on May 8, 2001

So they're suing the resort for having the trees nearby. I find that interesting, especially if they win the suit. In Florida, there are a lot of trees providing fruit that is harmless. I suppose some tourists wouldn't know any better...but I have always looked up something before ingesting it. "Is that ok to eat? Yes, it is starfruit. How about this? No, that is paint thinner."
posted by samsara at 6:33 AM on May 8, 2001

people who maintain that property should have known China berry trees produce a colorful berry that is an attractive fruit

ooooh! pret-ty ber-ry! yum-my yum-my!
posted by jpoulos at 6:54 AM on May 8, 2001

He even tried to convince his wife to eat some, and she wisely declined.

This is such a Homer Simpson moment: "Mmmmm...berries"
posted by briank at 7:05 AM on May 8, 2001

Okay, this guy was pretty stupid, and the lawsuit is ridiculous, but a Darwin award? I think not. This may be the first recorded case of someone dying from chinaberries, but I think the number of people dying annually from ingesting poisonous plants is greater than one.

A Darwin award should be reserved for someone whose stupidity is creative and flamboyant, like the guy who put rocket engines on the back of his car and drove into a cliff.

It also seems that this guy was physically, as well as mentally, defective. Ordinary people can't eat a fatal dose because the flavor is so foul, according to the report. He apparently liked the taste and had a constitution that could withstand an extremely high dose.
posted by anapestic at 7:21 AM on May 8, 2001

stupid? yes. darwin award? no - it's too late because he's already had kids and passed on his genes.
posted by cheesebot at 7:51 AM on May 8, 2001

"How do they taste, Ralph? . . . Good?"

"It tastes like burning."
posted by Skot at 7:53 AM on May 8, 2001

We are, of course, taking the widow's word for all this, aren't we? Hopefully there are some disinterested third parties who saw Mr. Elrod happily munching on the berries while on vacation. Otherwise, all we've got is a dead guy, a bag full of poison berries and a widow fishing for an insurance settlement.
posted by xiffix at 8:01 AM on May 8, 2001 the guy who put rocket engines on the back of his car and drove into a cliff.

I still don't believe that most of those things actually happen...
posted by jpoulos at 8:13 AM on May 8, 2001

Me neither, but I do believe this story. While not resulting in anyone getting smashed into a cliff, it's a good read.
posted by zempf at 8:20 AM on May 8, 2001

I spent a lot of time researching hemlock several years ago, and I feel the need to clear something up here. Not a big deal, just me being annoyingly anal.

Hemlock trees (and more specifically Eastern and Western hemlock) are not poisonous. In fact they've been used for food and beverages for hundreds of years. I've even used it in brewing.

However, my parents had lots of water hemlock on their farm, and it will kill you rather easily. It smells like strong parsley or caraway, and it has very meaty looking tubers. The branches have the texture of celery.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:21 AM on May 8, 2001

y6, all I know is, my uncle was really, really sick. Emergency room type sick. And it wasn't food poisoning.
posted by starvingartist at 8:27 AM on May 8, 2001

starvingartist - No doubt. Sorry. I should have explicitly stated I wasn't insinuating anything. If he get sick, I'm sorry about that.

But that's a popular misconception about Hemlock trees. They can be rather yummy, which is probably why he was chewing on it. I can be a pompous know-it-all sometimes.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:40 AM on May 8, 2001

If these berries tasted so awful and produced a burning effect, then what was with his taste buds?

Ahh reflections of survival school in the military.
posted by a3matrix at 8:46 AM on May 8, 2001

I can't believe that the US, the most powerful nation on Earth, is unable to do better than this.

Where are our biochemists, our geneticists? Why wasn't this man turned into a brain-eating zombie upon consuming the first berry? Why didn't the plant reach out and devour him itself? Even better, why didn't the berries burst apart in a shower of napalm upon being picked?

Dammit, if we can't do better than weenie-sounding China Berries, we should just give up and go home. All this hoopla about genetically-engineered plants, and the man dies after several days? Embarrassing.
posted by aramaic at 8:32 PM on May 8, 2001

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