Few things can seem more suited for children than a sandbox. It is a place of safety, creativity, and playfulness. For that reason, if you have young children, you might be inclined to think that a sandbox tree would be a good addition to your backyard.
The sandbox tree is a classic example of not judging a book by its cover — or a tree by its name. This innocuous-sounding piece of vegetation is considered to be one of the most dangerous plants in the world.
The sandbox tree (Hura crepitans) is native to the tropical regions of South America. It can be found in the southern portions of North America. It has also been introduced in Tanzania, but it is considered there to be an invasive species.
The tree can grow to be 130 feet (39.5 meters) tall. It is easy to identify by the cone-shaped spikes on the bark that resemble large Hershey’s Kisses.
It is the fruit of the sandbox tree that earns its deadly reputation. The fruit resembles little pumpkins. They contain seeds, and once they dry, they turn into deadly, ticking time bombs. These seedpods, when fully mature and dried, will explode with a loud bang and propel seeds and pieces of seedpod at speeds of up to 150 mph (241.5 kph) at distances of over 60 feet (18.5 m).
Anything that happens to be within the blast zone of an exploding seedpod can be seriously injured. Explosions can occur when the seedpod is jostled, falls to the ground, or is stepped upon. The seed pod can also spontaneously detonate, giving those in proximity no prior warning.
As if exploding fruit wasn’t a good enough reason to stay away from this vegetable of death, the tree has plenty of other ways to ruin your day. The fruit is highly toxic to human life. A little nibble will trigger vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. The tree’s sap is exceedingly corrosive and will bring a nasty rash to your skin and blindness to your eyes upon contact. The sap is so dangerous that it is used to make poison darts.
Despite these unpleasant qualities, health professionals have found ways to make good use of the sandbox tree. Oil extracted from the seeds acts as a powerful laxative. The leaves have been used as an eczema treatment. Oils from the leaves have also been used to treat rheumatism and intestinal worms. This should not give you license, however, to rush out and plant a grove of sandbox trees in your yard. Any medicinal use of this tree should be conducted only by a healthcare professional.