This dangerous tree is an evergreen, part of the spurge family. There are two species; Hura crepitans and H. polyandra. They are native primarily to the tropical parts of South America, Mexico and the Amazonian rain forest; occasionally found in tropical parts of North America. In addition, the sandbox tree was introduced into Tanzania in Eastern Africa, where it is now considered an invasive species. The sandbox tree can only grow in frost-free areas and needs a moist sandy loam soil. It does well in zones 10 and 11. Long ago, colonists in the British West Indies would use the empty seed capsules as sandboxes for blotting ink; thus the origin of the tree’s name.
The Exploding Seed Capsules
The seed capsules are so loud when they explode, that the Sandbox tree is referred to as the ‘Dynamite Tree.’ The pumpkin-shaped fruit let’s out a tremendous roar; splitting apart and launching flat, hard seeds in every direction with lethal speed. The tree isn’t really out to get anyone. It spreads through a unique method known as explosive dihisence. In simpler terms, it means that the seed capsules, which are grooved into 15 sections and are approximately 3 inches in diameter, split apart with such a force that the seeds are propelled a great distance.
The Good With the Bad
Despite the scary outer image, the sandbox tree does have some redeeming qualities. Oil extracted from seeds is used as a purgative. Tinctures are used to treat intestinal worms and rheumatism and the leaves are used as an eczema cure.
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Saw a stand in Mexico on our way from Puerto Vallarta to San Sebastian. Before he let us out of the tour bus the guide made sure if was safe (no pods ready to blow). Definitely a wicked-looking tree, and legend has it the indigenous included some of the processed sap in food given to the conquerors for their trip home. Thus the famous ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’.