In order to avoid losing their leaves to herbivores, plants have devised a variety of clever tactics. Several of these chemical defenses, unfortunately, can induce painful skin reactions in people. Read on to learn about some of the plants that might cause irritation and even burns.
Hippomane mancinella (Manchineel) is an evergreen tree endemic to Florida, the Caribbean, and parts of Central and South America. Because its leaves and fruits mimic those of an apple, it is frequently referred to as “beach apple.” However, its Spanish moniker, manzanilla de la muerte (“small apple of death”), more accurately describes its lethal qualities.
The plant has a multitude of poisons, and eating its fruits would almost certainly burn your mouth and throat. The milky sap of the leaves and bark includes phorbol, an unpleasant substance that causes a severe allergic skin reaction. Raindrops falling through the tree can pick up the phorbol and burn anyone standing beneath it. Even touching the tree can cause blisters on the skin.
Native Americans have long used the sap to poison arrows, and it is believed that explorer Juan Ponce de León perished as a result of such a weapon on his second trip to Florida.