Crime, mosquito-borne viruses, earthquakes, sharks – many are the dangers we’re warned to guard against when traveling to the tropics. Millions enjoy the Caribbean each year without falling prey to any of these ills, of course, though there is one peril you’d be hard-pressed to miss in our islands – the malevolent manchineel.
Native to tropical areas of North and South America, manchineel trees can be found in every corner of the Caribbean. They thrive along the shore, mixed in with the coconut palms and sea grape trees that line many of our choicest beaches.
They’re not all bad either. Manchineel trees actually play a beneficial role in maintaining the beauty of our beaches, their roots helping to guard against beach erosion, while their bright green foliage make our picture-perfect coastlines just a bit more so.
Manchineel’s good looks and deeds most definitely deceive, though, as every inch of these trees is seriously toxic. So much so, in fact, that Kalinago Indians used to dip the tips of their arrows in the white sap secreted by the manchineel to ensure a fatal blow to their enemies.
Poisoned arrows are not a worry these days, of course, though these trees still pose a major danger, particularly when the skies open up. Stand under a manchineel when it rains and you’ll end up with painful blisters over any exposed parts of your body!
So, how will you know to avoid manchineel trees?
Well, on most islands they’re marked, either with warning signs like the one above, or painted markings of some kind, usually a red “X” or red band extending around the truck of the tree.
If there’s any doubt, though, best to find some man-made shelter, or just get wet. After all, a little rain never hurt nobody… unless that body was standing under a manchineel tree..
*Lead photo credit: Flickr user Jason Hollinger.