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Hippomane - Hyaenanche

(Spurge family)


Hippomane mancinella L.
Manchineel, Beach Apple, Arvoreda Morte, Manzanillo

A number of other colloquial names are listed by Morton (1981) and Earle (1938).

This tree, perhaps the most notorious of all irritant trees, has acquired an extensive mythology (Bodeau 1936, Earle 1938). The species name is derived from the Latin American name manzanillo - "little apple". The early Spanish explorers discovered that the fruits were poisonous (Standley 1927). He stated that this tree is the worst of all the euphorbiaceous trees but happily it never grows outside a narrow belt fringing the seashore. The tree has been largely eliminated in southern Florida except from the Everglades National Park; persons wishing to fish in certain parts of that area are permitted to do so only after proving to Park authorities that they can recognise the manchineel tree and so avoid poisoning (Morton 1958). The tree grows to about 6 metres in height and spreads about 6 metres. It is sought by the unwary for shelter and even rain falling from the tree can cause irritation. Wood cutters char the bark before cutting the tree down (Barham 1794, Allen 1943).

The wood is used locally for turnery and cabinet-work, but the sawdust causes rhinitis and cough and some men refuse to work with it (Earle 1938). Workers cutting down the tree were affected by blistering of the skin. Friction of the parts affected with the buds and young leaves of the white cedar (Tabebuia heterophylla Britton), Macfadyena unguis-cati A. Gentry, or other members of the family Bignoniaceae, which grow in close proximity to the tree were said to be an effective antidote (Hamilton 1846, Pammel 1911, Standley 1926b). The smoke of the wood, if used for fuel, is intensely irritating to the eyes (Allen 1943, Standley 1927, Dahlgren & Standley 1944). The wood, if thoroughly dried, is said to lose its irritant properties and is used for utensils (Standley 1927).

All parts of the plant contain a caustic milky juice which produces severe burning and swelling on contact with the skin and temporary blindness if rubbed into the eyes (Allen 1943, Dahlgren & Standley 1944). Pammel (1911) cited early authors in describing the properties of the tree. Grana (1946) reported 13 cases of acute conjunctivitis and dermatitis due to contact with the tree on beaches. According to Pardo-Castello (1962), dermatitis from contact with the plant affects principally the face, scrotum, and hands. Earle (1938), Satulsky (1943), Satulsky & Wirts (1943), and Snow & Harley (1944) provided clinical descriptions. Soldiers training in the West Indies during World War II developed bullous dermatitis and conjunctivitis after accidental contact with the sap. Dermatitis from the tree is known in Barbados and in Cuba (Sheard 1974). It is difficult to rationalise the observation of Satulsky & Wirts (1943) that one individual in a detachment of 60 soldiers could handle the plant material and rub the latex into his skin with impunity.

Biting into the highly poisonous fruit (Pammel 1911) causes large blisters on the cheeks and lips which become extremely swollen. The sap was used by exiled prisoners in French Guiana to provoke dermatitis and conjunctivitis (Allen 1943). Persons also used it on their backs to simulate the effects of a beating (White 1887).

Irritation of the penis followed handling the plant (Wedd 1937). Perianal dermatitis followed the use of the leaves as toilet paper (Satulsky & Wirts 1943). Five sailors developed dermatitis after a beach barbeque under the trees (Lowe 1974).

The irritant can be effectively removed from the skin by soap and water within 30 minutes of contact, or more traditionally by plain seawater as the tree is usually found on or near beaches (Hamilton 1846, Snow & Harley 1944).

The seeds are poisonous when ingested (Caddy 1894, Lewis & Elvin-Lewis 1977); the plant is said to be violently emetic (von Reis Altschul 1973).

Adolf & Hecker (1975b) isolated a number of irritant tigliane and daphnane polyol esters from the latex.

Hura crepitans L.
[syns Hura brasiliensis Willd., Hura senegalensis Baill.]
Hura, Assacu, Sandbox Tree, Possentri, Possumwood, Jabillo, Sablier, Ceiba Blanca, White Cedar

The common names possen- and possum- are corruptions of poison (Record & Mell 1924). The name sandbox tree refers to the use of the seed pods in earlier times both as as sand-filled receptacles for goose quills used as pens and as containers of fine sand to expedite drying of ink on newly written papers (Menninger 1967).

This species is among the 14 commoner causes of plant contact dermatitis in the Dominican Republic (Brache & Aquino 1978).

"The fellers, as they cut them down, are very careful of their eyes; and those that have cipers [kerchiefs], put it over their faces; for if any of the sap fly into their eyes, they become blind for a month." (Ligon 1673). Men engaged in felling the tree developed swelling of the face and hands from contact with the acrid sap (Allen 1943). The sap from broken leaves, branches and from bark is vesicant to the skin and the sawdust is irritant to carpenters (White 1887, Pardo-Castello 1923, Standley 1927, Chopra & Badhwar 1940, Allen 1943, Kerharo & Bouquet 1950, Blohm 1962). Arnold (1968), in Honolulu, did not find the plant noticeably irritant to his own skin. The sap is said to be milky (White 1887, Standley 1927) but Morton (1972b, 1981) in Florida found it to be translucent, yellowish, and sticky but not milky. The segments of the woody fruits can cause dermatitis when they are used in bracelets and necklaces (Morton 1958).

The bark of the young tree is studded with stout prickles. The fruits explode violently when ripe; the noise they make gives rise to the West Indian name "monkey's dinner bell". The noisy explosion of the ripe, dry pods showers by-standers with seeds and sharp-pointed segments sometimes to a distance of 60 metres. The tree thus "stabs, poisons, and shoots" (Barrett 1956).

The wood exported to Europe has caused dermatitis (Hausen 1981). It was one of the first toxic woods to be chemically investigated. Boussingault & Rivero (1825), working in Bogota, found a vesicant essential oil in the latex, the vapour from which inflamed their faces severely while it was being boiled down.

Richet (1909, 1910) studied anaphylaxis provoked in animals by an albuminoid extract of the latex which he called crepitine, but this was not the irritant principle. Jaffé (1943) reported the isolation of a proteolytic enzyme, named hurain, from the latex.

The juice and seeds cause violent vomiting and diarrhoea when ingested (Chopra & Badhwar 1940, Lewis & Elvin-Lewis 1977, Morton 1981).

The principal irritant constituent of Hura crepitans would appear to be the daphnane derivative huratoxin which was isolated and identified by Sakata et al. (1971a, 1971b).

Hura polyandra Baill.

The milky juice is used for poisoning fish; the seeds are violently purgative (Uphof 1959).

Hyaenanche globosa Lambert
[syn. Toxicodendrum capense Thunb.]

The genus Hyaenanche Lambert & Vahl is monotypic. The species is found in southern Africa.

Hausen (1970) cites Anon (1940) and Briggs (1946) for an injurious effect of the wood and Henry (1920) for chemical aspects.

Richard J. Schmidt

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