This Tree Comes With a Warning Label

To make your Thursday a bit more interesting, here is an interesting fact you probably weren’t even aware of.  I know I wasn’t!

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When it comes to defence, the animal kingdom has come up with a wide assortment of horns, spikes, spines, claws, enhanced super senses, and camouflage and mimicry abilities that make the animal nearly invisible.  And that’s only naming a few.  Not to mention, that if all else fails, that animal has the option of running away.  That is the advantage of being mobile.

But what if you are a plant?

Plants don’t have the luxury of being able to move around after they’re established.  They’re pretty much grounded where they are.  So how does something that can’t get away from an attack defend itself?  Chemically of course.  The plant world has its own sets of biochemical weapons at its disposal.  Being eaten by an unwelcome insect?  Attract another that will prey on the pest.  Become infected by a disease?  Well, while it may be too late for you, you can warn your fellow plants by sending chemical signals that will aid them in building up their defences.  And animal predation problems?  Build up toxins and other nasty tasting compounds in your vulnerable leaves and twigs that will make you unappetizing and even make the ingester sick.

One plant has taken these chemical weapons to the extreme, earning it the distinction of being the Guinness World Record holder for “The Most Dangerous Tree.”  This tree’s toxic defences are strong enough that even humans are at serious risk; to the point where countries where this species is found have taken to giving them warning labels.

The tree is the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico native the manchineel.

Curacao-poison-trees

It looks like a beautiful flowering apple tree, but don’t be fooled.  The sap contains a variety of strong toxins that can cause blisters when in contact with the skin.  Even standing beneath it during a rain can cause a reaction.  If you mistakenly burn the wood, the smoke can cause blindness.  And if that weren’t enough, if the sweet, apple-like fruit is eaten it can cause the mouth and esophagus to blister, gastrointestinal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, seizures, and can potentially even be fatal.  Historical accounts say that after encountering this plant, Christopher Columbus dubbed it the “death apple.”

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That’s a whole lot of damage from one plant.  While an extreme example, it can serve as a cautionary tale:  Always beware of eating unfamiliar plants!

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