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Name Your Poison

The Portuguese Man O’War has a gelatinous indigo float concealing a cluster of stinging tentacles streaming from its underside. Each tentacle contains a highly toxic mix of phenols and protein that can paralyze fish and deliver whip-like, painful red welts to humans

The Portuguese Man O’War has a gelatinous indigo float concealing a cluster of stinging tentacles streaming from its underside. Each tentacle contains a highly toxic mix of phenols and protein that can paralyze fish and deliver whip-like, painful red welts to humans

No matter where we hang our Stetsons, the subdivision we all share is the Atlantic coastal ridge, sometimes called the rim of the Everglades, a narrow strip of land elevated a little higher than a curb and platted with beach and dunes, turtle grass jungles, mangrove swamps, tidal mud flats, marshes, hammocks, prairies, pastures and piney flatlands. Like any Eden, our idyllic parcel is also favorable to the mythical apple, the poisoned fruit. (The apple, incidentally, is not just mythically toxic. Slice through its equator and you’ll find a pentagram of chambers, each holding a lustrous brown seed veined with cyanide.)

Poison is not hard to find in Florida. Coupled with the mosquitoes, it’s what prevented our state from being settled by all but the hardiest, and caused early mapmakers to sketch their renderings on the fly. Charts of the region often show only the perimeter with the interiors marked “impenetrable morass.”

Read the entire article in the May 2012 issue