Look out! Not every plant on the Galapagos is safe to touch. This is almost true in any area of the world as there always seems to be a plant of two or even more that can cause severe dermatitis when simply touched. Most people in the U.S. are very much aware of the poison ivy, oaks and sumac. We learn to recognize these plants, especially after a reaction from exposure to these plants. But as I’ve always said, while learning by experience may sometimes be the best method of learning, it is certainly not the most comfortable way.
In the Galapagos there is a tree called poison apple, also called manzanilla or manzanilla de la muerte which means “little apple of death.” In general appearance the tree is just a typical looking tree, and it would be easy to come into contact with it unless the guide identifies the tree and explains the outcome of touching one. The tree is actually a Euphorb, short for the family Euphorbiaceae. Euphorbs often have a toxic milky sap; however, with the poison apple tree, every part of the tree is extremely poisonous. The tree has very thin reddish to grayish bark and produces a fruit that looks like a small apple. Amazingly, however, no part of the plant is safe to touch as it causes severe dermatitis that is much quicker acting than poison ivy, oak or sumac. In some cases, the poison results in immediate rash, blistering and burning pain. Even taking refuge under a large poison apple tree during a rain can have terrible results as the water dripping from the tree will be laden in the plants toxins and thus contact with human skin will cause terrible health concerns.
There is a fairly large specimen of this tree at the Charles Darwin Research Station (Day 7 of International Expeditions’ Galapagos cruises) and it is labeled, DO NOT TOUCH, POISONOUS! I personally have seen a number of young specimens of poison apple at one of the landings on Fernandina Island (Day 3 of IE’s Galapagos Islands cruises). When walking the interesting lava fields on Fernandina, it is best not to touch any plants and ask your naturalist guide about poison apple prior to your hike on the island.
Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.