Thursday, October 29, 2009

101 Interesting Things, part thirty-one: The Sandbox Tree

Many thanks to Silver Garou for tipping me off to a tree in desperate need of a better PR agent. The sandbox tree is a native to Central and South America, and so-called because its unripe fruit was used in colonial times to make "pounce pots," also called "sandboxes." These devices hold ink blotting materials such as talc powder, finely-ground salt, or even actual sand. This is perhaps the most boring quality of the tree, rather like calling your automobile a "portable cupholder." The only way they could have named the sandbox tree in any more boring a fashion would be to call it "the bark-having tree," or perhaps "the leafy tree." See, look, it has those things:
This is a tragedy because the sandbox tree, AKA "monkey no-climb," is about the least boring tree in the world. In order from least to most impressive, it can stab, poison, or even shoot you: not only can it kill you with its caustic sap, not only can it kill you with its spiny bark, not only can it kill you with its toxic leaves and seeds, but this tree can fuck shit up for anyone within a football field by way of its explosive fruit.

Read that again. It's better the second time, I promise.

To be fair, the sandbox tree is also called "the dynamite tree" due to the loud report of its seed-spreading antics. But a still-more-accurate name would be "the poison-blooded spiny-armored grenadier tree," though it would make casual conversation on the subject something of an ordeal. This tree quite simply does not fuck around. Its sap is both caustic and poisonous, its bark is also poisonous and covered in very sharp spikes, its leaves are poisonous and grow to two feet wide, and its fruit is poisonous even before it explodes. When the fruit does explode, it can throw its flat seeds about a hundred meters through the air, injuring anyone stupid enough to stay in sight of the damned thing. Although I guess I wouldn't really want to turn my back on this bastard; I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if the tree could uproot itself and walk into my home to strangle me in my sleep. Y'know, in keeping with the whole "kill anything in the area" ethic it's got going on.

Bearing all of that in mind, of course we found a way to harness such power for good or for awesome. Indigenous people rub their hunting and fishing implements on the tree, and this gets them sufficient amounts of toxin to aid them in hunting their quarry. Eat a seed and you'll get vicious cramps while your bowels evacuate both ways, while a "large" dose (consisting of two seeds) can fucking kill you - or just give you delirium and convulsions, if you're lucky. Although somehow these properties have been harnessed for recreational purposes, as some derivative of the plant is sometimes used as an additive to Ayahuasca.

For further reading, there's Cracked's Six Things That Shouldn't Explode (But Did Anyway), and Julia Griffin's Something Wicked This Way Grows, both of which come highly recommended. There's just so much interesting stuff out there!

Costume Update: As of this morning, things are looking good - I just need to hurry now.