So, you probably thought the exploding thorn-covered trees were pretty deadly, or were put off by how the Eucalyptus is basically a fire demon reincarnated ironically into tree form. And a year ago I’d have agreed with you if you thought those were the worst trees in existence.
But it gets worse. Oh, it gets so much worse.
Allow me to introduce a tree known as the “little apple of death”: the Manchineel.
Known to the Guinness World Records as “the most dangerous tree in the world”, The manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella) can be found on coastal beaches and in brackish swamps where it grows among mangroves, and is filled with toxins. And when I say “toxins”, I don’t mean the kind that your local hippies try to cleanse from their system with the latest fad diet. I mean the kind that would murder them horribly and in graphic fashion.
A flowering plant in the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae), it is native to tropical southern North America and northern South America, and is actually endangered. While most fruiting plants rely on animals to eat the fruit and spread their seeds, pretty much the only thing that can eat the death-apples of the manchineel without apparent harm is iguanas.
The fruit tastes sweet at first, but gradually turns to a strange peppery feeling, followed by a “burning, tearing sensation and tightness of the throat”, until eventually the victim can barely swallow solid food because of the excruciating pain. One doctor wrote that:
“ingestion may produce severe gastroenteritis with bleeding, shock, bacterial superinfection, and the potential for airway compromise due to edema.”
Now you may think that’s pretty bad, but that if you just don’t eat the fruit, you’ll be alright. And if you’re thinking that, you have underestimated what I meant when I said “filled with toxins”.
To quote Wikipedia, “The fruit is poisonous, as is every other part of the tree.” (emphasis mine)
The sap acts as a strong contact allergen, which means that if you touch the sap you will break out into massive blisters. The sap has been known to damage paint on cars. It’s so bad, that the act of merely standing under this tree in a rainstorm will make your skin blister. This is the kind of stuff that it’s considered a war crime to use by humans, and the tree just makes it naturally. Natives would use the sap to poison the tips of their arrows – Juan Ponce de León died from manchineel poison on one such arrow.
Even simply standing NEAR the tree can be hazardous, if you do it long enough. Breaking off a branch and using it as a fan caused one explorer to remark “I cut a branch thereof, to serve me instead of a fan, but all my face swelled the next day and filled with blisters, as if it were burnt to such a degree that I was blind for three days.”
A particularly sadistic way to kill people would be to tie them to the tree and leave them for a week.
Strangely enough, it is actually used for lumber in some cases, though the lumberjacks who cut it have to let it lay in the sun to dry, in order to remove the sap. Presumably while wearing full hazmat suits, but then that’s just my guess.
While you can’t exactly chop it down haphazardly without it making you rue the day you were born, you also can’t burn it down easily, either. If the smoke from a fire with manchineel wood gets into your eyes, it can cause eye damage and potentially permanent blindness.
Now picture what happens if you somehow magically got these to grow in a forest alongside eucalyptus trees. Or just on the beaches of a large island surrounding the eucalyptus forest interior. If there’s a gateway to Hell, that’s probably what the local wildlife is like.
Basically, this tree is the incarnation of loathing and spite, and any dryad of such a tree probably sweats acid when it isn’t luring unknowing people to their doom with its pleasant-looking fruit or the shade of its leaves.
Just imagine what a druid order based around the manchineel would be like.
Ooh, or a monastery of poison-immune monks who use the manchineel for food and tree-shaping them into their buildings and living ships! Try pillaging THIS vessel, pirates!