November 21

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. or God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” - Genesis 3:4-5 NKJV

The manchineel (pronounced man­-chih-NEAL) is a medium-size tree that grows in tropical America as far north as the beaches of southern Florida. It belongs to the spurges, a family that includes the rubber tree and the castor bean plant. Trees and plants in the spurge family produce a milky sap that’s sometimes valuable, like the rubber trees, and sometimes poisonous, like the castor beans.

From its appearance, the manchineel seems ordinary. Large ones grow to 50 feet. The three-­to four-inch leaves are oval with toothed mar­gins, the bark is tan and smooth, and the yel­lowish green fruit looks like a crabapple.

But the manchineel is anything but ordi­nary. Although it appears harmless, it hides a secret—its sap is highly toxic. Natives of Caribbean islands passed down legends of the tree’s poisonous powers, claiming that even the tree’s odor was deadly. Those legends weren’t too far off the mark, and fortunately they were successful in warning people to stay away from the tree. But some of the early American ex­plorers were not impressed by legends.

Around 1850. British ship carpenters were temporarily blinded after cutting down a manchineel for lumber. When the ship’s cap­tain investigated the cause of the affliction, he picked up a few leaves and fruit and also lost his eyesight for a short time.

We now know that the sap and fruit of the manchineel are extremely poisonous to people and animals. Contact with the tree causes skin inflammation and temporary blindness. Even rainwater dripping from the leaves produces blisters on the skin, and smoke from the burn­ing wood creates short-term blindness. This is a tree to stay away from regardless of how harmless it may look.

Life is full of things like the manchineel­—things that look harmless enough but are deadly when we get involved with them. God’s power to save includes giving us fair warning about dangerous pursuits. He then leaves it up to us to demonstrate the wisdom of following His direction.

Nature Quest – James & Priscilla Tucker