The manchineel tree is native to Florida in the United States, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America.
A present-day Spanish name is in fact manzanilla de la muerte, “little apple of death”. This refers to the fact that manchineel is one of the most poisonous trees in the world.
Its milky white sap contains phorbol and other skin irritants, producing strong allergic dermatitis. Standing beneath the tree during rain will cause blistering of the skin from mere contact with this liquid (even a small drop of rain with the milky substance in it will cause the skin to blister). Burning the tree may cause blindness if the smoke reaches the eyes.
In some parts of its range, many trees carry a warning sign (for example on Curaçao), while others are marked with a red “X” on the trunk to indicate danger. In the French Antilles the trees are often marked with a painted red band a few feet above the ground.
The Caribs used the sap of this tree to poison their arrows and would tie captives to the trunk of the tree, ensuring a slow and painful death. The Caribs were known to poison the water supply of their enemies with the leaves.