The very fact that one plant can be deadly and live next to an edible plant has always intrigued me, so soon I was in the clutch of odd plants and toxins, fascinated that an alarming number of local Feather River plants are dangerous if you aren’t informed.
I found it really a “Natural Wonder” that one of those poison trees of the tropical Americas, Hura crepitans, is called among names, the Dynamite Tree! The mere appearance of the spike-covered trunk is quite repulsive, hence another name — the Monkey-No-Climb tree — but the explosive ability of the 6-inch, pumpkin-shaped fruit to detonate and disperse the shrapnel-shaped se at a speed of over 100 mph for as far as 148 feet, commands attention. This is not a tree you want in your yard!
The toxin in the fruit is very potent, and the sap can cause extreme rash, and blindness if it gets into the eye, plus the Amazonian natives use it for poison darts. Yet, the seed-cases are made into “pounce pots,” filled with fine sand to make a blotter on the desk (the Sand Box Tree), the “shrapnel” se are carved into curved dolphins, and the sap is an efficient fish stunner. Everything has some use. For some reason, Hura was introduced to Tanzania, Africa, and now is a dreaded invasive tree.
Another ominously poisonous jungle tree is the Manchineal that also has the title of “world’s most dangerous tree.” Called “Little Apple of Death,” some are found in Florida. Every part of Manchineal is poisonous, and to stand under the tree a “rain of sap” will seriously blister your skin. It is fatal to many birds and animals — but the black-spined iguana can eat the fruit! Hippomane mancinetta is endangered, but, like poison oak, who cares? However, the human council is not qualified to judge what species lives and which dies. Do they?
There is a rather large number of poisonous plants around the world. In practically every country, there are trees and vines and herbaceous plants that have a defensive system of poison to deter potential harm from various threats. In Central America, 11 known trees are poisonous to touch. In the Indonesia Islands, there is a poison-producing tree called the “Upas Tree,” swathed in mystery until actually found! Myth had it that even to approach the tree was to die from Antiaris toxicaria fumes. Natives made poison darts from the sap, sometimes mixed with the more potent poison from the Golden Tree Frog — although the fruit is edible!
There is no tree that “rains death” in the Oroville area, but various degrees of toxic plants do exist. The most formidable is the oleander that is about number three of the “most poisonous plants,” and the number one (on some lists) is also found in Butte County — the castor bean. The Butte list includes buckeye tree, chokecherry, hemlock, Indian hemp, nightshade, tobacco plant, larkspur, and Zigadenus “deathcamas” lilies. Many of our garden plants are poisonous. I make these comments aware that the master of poison plant details is Wes Dempsey of Chico. He made a science of the subject and understands the chemical connections of toxic flora. Wes filled us full of “Zagadene formulas” on his famed nature walks.
An Oroville Maidu had arthritis, and his shaman gathered some Mountain Arnica, made a solution of it, and after a tablespoonful a day, he was cured. However, arnica will stop the heart with too much! Related Articles
Of about 350,000 known plants, about 80,000 are edible for humans, 150 species are actually cultivated, with 30 species producing 95 percent of human calories and protein. All plants have some level of secondary toxicity. “It’s the dose that makes it deadly.”
“Humans have a great capacity for declaring something good or evil, without truly knowing.” — Young