Cerbera manghas: Sea mango

Family: Apocynaceae
Common name: Sea mango, Madagascar ordeal bean, Odollam tree, Pink-eyed cerbera, Dog-bane, Odallam, Cerbera, Reva, Jawa tree, Pong-pong, Beach Milkwood, Grey Milkwood, Milkwood, Rubber tree, Tangena

Though these trees are called Sea mangoes, they have no connection or resemblance whatsoever to mangoes. Sea mango trees are seen in the wild, especially near beaches, rivers, mangroves, and marshy areas.

They can grow to a height of 10-12 meters with a trunk diameter of 70 cms. The trunk is grey-grown, deeply fissured, and flaky. Leaves are dark green and glossy, elongated oval in shape and arranged spirally.

The tree produces bunches of white tubular flowers with 5 distinct petals, but only one flower is usually open in the cluster. They are fragrant, about 3-5 cms in diameter, with 5 stamens and 5 distinct sepals pointed outwards like petals. Once the flowers fall off, the sepals look like smaller flowers in star-shaped clusters.

The tree later produces oval, egg-shaped fruits that give the tree its name Sea mango. But the similarity ends there, since Sea mango fruits are extremely poisonous, to the point that they are also called ‘suicide apple’.

The fruits are initially green and then turn pink, red, and purple. All parts of the tree exude a white sap which is also toxic to humans and animals. In fact, the name Cerberus comes from the hell dog in Greek mythology, symbolic of the toxicity of the entire tree and fruits. The toxic sap was used in earlier days to poison arrows.

For this reason, it is not a garden tree or an ornamental tree. Overall the leaves and flowers have a slight resemblance to the Plumeria obtusa or Frangipani, with their fragrant, white flowers. Sea mango trees reproduce through seeds that are carried by water to other shores.

The seeds are very sturdy, even when the outer skin of the fruit becomes dry and husky. Sea mango trees prefer good sunlight and constant access to water. It is a sturdy tree that is now seen in the wild in most tropical countries. They are tolerant of shade, salinity, and poor soil conditions.

In spite of its toxicity, the plant has many medicinal uses and is used in the treatment of cardiac diseases, scabies, itch, dysuria, ringworm infections, hemorrhoids, and stomach disorders. The wood is used for making veneers, fruit boxes, small furniture, carvings, shutters, etc.

Propagation is through seeds.