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Sandbox Tree, Hura Crepitans

st john flora: sandbox tree

The sandbox tree is recognized by its many dark pointed spines and smooth brown bark. The sharp spines along the trunk have caused it to be called monkey no climb. The white prickle, yellow prickle and kapok have also been called monkey no climb for the same reason.

Another name for this tree is monkey pistol. The tree has beautiful seed pods that look like tangerines made out of wood. When the seed pods are perfectly ripe, the individual segments, which are the separate seeds, burst apart making a sharp cracking sound like a pistol being fired.

The origin of the name sandbox tree was once explained to me by St. John horticulturist, Eleanor Gibney:

“During the Victorian era a necessary desk accessory was something called the sandbox. People kept sand in it to blot ink with. Some enterprising person, upon finding these pods in the West Indies, must have decided that if you got them right before they split open and put a little glue in them, they would stay intact, and they would make perfect little sand holders.”

“There are probably hundreds of them sitting around in the attics of Europe,” she added.