Walking along a beach in the scorching sun, you may be tempted to bite into one of the fleshy mangoes on the trees by the shore. But wait! The mangoes are rather red, and why would there be mango trees by the sea? They are actually Sea Mango (Cerbera manghas) from the Family Apocynaceae. Inside, the fruits are nothing like ordinary mangoes, but if eaten are deadly poisonous!
Sea Mango is a native tree in Hong Kong that grows up to 4 to 8 metres, in coastal areas. To many plants, the seaside is not an ideal habitat as the salinity is high, oxygen level is low and the base is unstable. Mangrove trees have special structures such as prop roots and salt glands to adapt to the environment. Although Sea Mango is not a mangrove tree, it can still inhabit the coastal environment, hence is classified as mangrove associate.
Sea Mango blossoms from March to October, with elegant, fragrant white flowers that each five petals and feature a ring of purple red in the centre. Even after the blooming period, the snowy white flowers compose a gorgeous picture as they fall to the ground like a snowfall!
Beware! Do Not Eat!
Sea Mango, like its relative the widely-known poisonous plant Oleander (Nerium oleander), belongs to the Family Apocynaceae. The whole plant is highly toxic—particularly the fruit and seeds. The fruiting period is from July to December, when its fruit turns from green to red. The fruit look so much alike the edible mango, but if we mistakenly eat the fruit we may suffer from vomiting, stomach ache, limb numbness and even lose our life! The flesh is not juicy at all, but is cellulose that allows it to propagate the seeds on water.
The leaves of Sea Mango is narrowly obovate, smooth and leathery and grows at the tip of the branches. By the end of summer, the leaves will turn red and drop off. The special leaves, flowers and fruits all make the plant highly ornamental. Hence the plant is cultivated widely on roadsides and gardens even though it is highly poisonous. Beware, these trees can be found not only in the coast but also in the urban parks! But unlike the triffids of science fiction, they cannot move or lash out with a stinger, so if you don't eat the fruits they are perfectly harmless.