Tree of Death
The tree in question belonged to the manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella), sometimes referred to as 'beach apple' or 'poison guava'. It's native to the tropical parts of southern North America, as well as Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of northern South America.
The plant bears another name in Spanish, "tree of death". According to the Guinness World Records, the manchineel tree is in fact the most dangerous tree in the world.
All parts of manchineel are extremely poisonous, and "interaction with and ingestion of any part of this tree may be lethal.
The tree produces a thick, milky sap, which oozes out of everything – the bark, the leaves, and even the fruit – and can cause severe, burn-like blisters if it comes into contact with skin. It's thought that the most serious reactions come from phorbol, an organic compound that belongs to the diterpene family of esters.
Because phorbol is highly water-soluble, you don't even want to be standing under a manchineel when it's raining – the raindrops carrying the diluted sap can still severely burn your skin.
Because of these horrifying properties, in some parts of the tree's natural range they are painted with a red cross, a red ring of paint, or even paired with explicit warning signs.
The trees, actually play a valuable role in their local ecosystems – as a large shrub, the manchineel grows into dense thickets that provide excellent windbreaking, and a protection against coastal erosion on Central American beaches.
There have been reports of severe cases of eye inflammation and even temporary blindness caused by the smoke of burning manchineel wood – not to mention the effects of inhaling the stuff.
The real death threat comes from eating its small round fruit. Ingesting the fruit can prove fatal when severe vomiting and diarrhea dehydrate the body to the point of no return.