On her first morning, she went in search of shells and corals in the white sand. But instead between coconut and mango scattered on the beach, she and her friend found a green fruit with a sweet smell which seemed like a small apple.
Thoughtlessly, both bit the fruit and for a moment a pleasant, sweet taste became a pungent burning sensation.
It was followed by a terrible tightness in the throat gradually becoming so bad that it could barely be swallowed.
This plant is called “arbol de la muerte” in Spanish, which literally means “tree of death.”
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this tree is actually one of the most dangerous in the world.
As explained by the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Florida, all parts of it are extremely toxic and each “interaction with it and ingestion of any part of this tree can be deadly.”
This plant belongs to a large and diverse family of “Euphorbia”, which also includes decorative “Christmas Star”.
The tree produces a thick, milky fluid that flows out of everything – bark, leaves and even fruit. And can cause severe blisters like burns if it comes into contact with skin.
This fluid contains many toxins, but it is considered that the most serious reactions come from Phorbol, organic compound belonging to the family of diterpenes.
Because phorbol is highly soluble in water, you do not want to stand under this tree when it rains. The drops can bear diluted liquid which still can seriously burn your skin.
Because of these terrible properties in some parts of the natural range of the tree are marks with a red cross, red circle or even warning signs.
They can not be eliminated completely, but still play a significant role in the local ecosystem.
It grows in dense thickets and provides excellent protection against wind and erosion of coastal beaches in Central America.
There are reports of severe cases of inflammation of the eyes, and even temporary blindness caused by smoke from burning this wood.
Not to mention the effects if inhaled. However, Caribbean carpenters use this wood for making furniture for centuries. They would carefully cut and dry it in the sun to neutralize the poisonous liquid.
The real death threat comes from eating their small round fruit.
The intake of fruits in the body can be fatal. Severe diarrhea and vomiting will dehydrate the body to the point of no return.
Fortunately, Strickland and her friend survived because they ate only a small chunk of the apple of death. In 2000, Strickland had published the story in “The British Medical Journal” describing the symptoms in detail.
It took 8 hours for their pain to slowly subside as they carefully drank pina colada and milk. The toxin then proceeded to the lymph nodes in the neck, causing further agony.
“Our experience was terrifying” – she added about her experience with this “tree of death”.