The manchineel tree is the most dangerous tree in the world, so poisonous, even standing under it during a rainstorm can leave you with horribly painful blisters if you’re unlucky enough to have your skin come into contact with water droplets carrying down the highly toxic sap - best to take your chances with the acid rain. Getting anywhere near, the smoke burning the wood of this incredibly toxic tree produces could have you dealing with temporary blindness. In other words, this is not the kind of tree you want chopped into firewood and lighting up your weekend braai; you don’t hate your relatives that much. Thankfully, this tree doesn’t grow in South Africa, so you’re safe from the manchineel’s particular brand of nastiness, but that’s not to say the firewood you’re using is completely safe either.
South Africa is also home to some of the most toxic trees you’ll find, and a whole lot of them are on invasive species lists for good reason. Wax Trees are very high on this list, and for good reason. Though pretty, with bright yellow flowers and bluish green leaves, this is yet another tree that even standing near can be dangerous as coming into contact with any part of it can get you rashes, and in severe cases, even serious blisters. When they’re planted purposefully, it is most commonly used as a decoration, not that much plating is needed seeing as it’s taking over a whole lot of the place all on its own, spreading into forests and plantations via the droppings of birds who’ve eaten the seeds. Being as dangerous as it is, this tree is very hard to get rid of safely, and also not a good candidate for firewood. On a slightly less extreme note, we also have invasive trees that are less harmful to human’s short term, but an absolute nightmare for our environment while being oddly useful elsewhere.
In a water scarce country such as South Africa, trees that take up more than their fair of water are toxic for any other plants in their vicinity. It’s been estimated that invasive species such as sekelbos take up approximately seven percent of all water runoff each year and choke off many endangered native species that would otherwise have flourished. Bluegum and other eucalyptus trees, while having many useful properties are among the biggest water guzzlers in the world, take it a step further, and release a pheromone that prohibits the growth of any other trees nearby.
The only effective way of lessening the negative impact of these environmentally toxic trees is controlling their spread by cutting them down and giving others a chance to grow. Thankfully, not all of them are as hard to remove as the wax tree, and many find use afterwards as perfectly safe, family friendly firewood. Both sekelbos and bluegum are both excellent hardwoods that burn long and almost smoke free, for a fun, environmentally conscious Braai. Both are also inexpensive and can be delivered to your door hassle free anywhere in Joburg.