Oleander, like many tropical and subtropical plants, is poisonous. But engaging some of nature’s most beautiful gifts requires risk at times.
Oleander has been a bit of a controversial plant for gardeners in California, Texas, Arizona, Georiga and Florida because Oleander contains a toxin mostly in its sap called Cardenolide Glycosides. It is dangerous not just when ingested, but also when inhaled if the plant burns in a wild fire.
I think Oleander would look beautiful growing in a garden with Necklace Pod, Sapphire Showers and
American Black Elderberry.
Here are answers to some common questions about the Oleander plant for gardeners who aren’t sure if it’s the right plant for their yard:
No. 1: Is Oleander considered an invasive plant? In Florida, the oleander is sometimes listed as a recommended substitute for invasive small trees such as Chinese tallow tree, Mimosa, Orchid Tree, Rosewood, Golden Rain Tree and Chinaberry. In California, a “Red alert” was issued by California Invasive Species Council in 2000. Red alerts are issued when a plant has just recently become a problem in an area. Oleander’s pods contain seeds that have plumes that disperse them in the air or wind.
No. 2: Why do people plant Oleander if it is poisonous? Oleander is an ornamental plant that is beautiful. It’s a fast-growing evergreen shrub that may become 20 feet tall.
No. 3: What are the most popular Oleander colors? Oleander blooms in white, red, pink, salmon or light yellow.
No. 4: Is Oleander native to the Untied States? Nerium oleander is native to northern Africa, the Mediterranean region and southeast Asia. It is not a Florida native plant, but is considered Florida friendly in that it does not require a lot of water.
No. 5: Can I grow Oleander where I live? Oleander grows in USDA Zones 8-10. It makes a beautiful beach planting. Growing Oleander is easy. Oleander prefers dry climates but is versatile. Oleander can be grown in sun or part-shade. Do not grow near a playground or areas frequented by pets and children
No. 6: How do I know if I’ve been poisoned by Oleander?: The toxin found in Oleander is sticky with a clear to milky color. People that ingest the toxin may become extremely ill or die. Poisoning can also occur if you ingest honey made by bees that used the oleander plant for nectar. Symptoms of poisoning include blurred vision, diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, irregular or slow heartbeat, low blood pressure, weakness, confusion, depression, dizziness, fainting, headache, hives, rash and death.
No. 6: What do I do if I think I’ve been poisoned by Oleander?: Call the National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) if you suspect Oleander poisoning which is also called Rosebay poisoning or Thevatia peruviana poisoning.
No. 7: Can I grow Oleander into a small tree?: Yes. To train Oleander as a tree, just remove stems and suckers as they appear form the ground. I’ve seen Oleander growing as small trees on fast food restaurant lots in Florida.
No. 8: What’s killing my Oleander bush?: Nerium oleander may die from a disease called Oleander leaf scorch. The disease is caused by the Xylella fastidiosa bacterium carried by a 1-centimeter insect named the smoke tree sharpshooter. The plant may die if it gets the disease. The disease has destroyed Oleander in Arizona and California.
No. 9: What are myths surrounding the Oleander and how did it get its name?: According to Edith Box, Ph.D., Oleander in Greek mythology means charm and romance. A Greek maiden was charmed by Leander, who swam with her every night. One night she found her love had drowned. She found him with an Oleander flower in his hand. She walked the shores calling “Oh Leander, Oh Leander,” and kept the flower which magically continued to grow and become the oleander bush.
No. 10: Can you burn oleander? No. It’s dangerous to burn Oleander branches as the fumes are dangerous. Other things to remember about Oleander: Make sure you wash your hands after handling Oleander. Do no chew the plant. Do not use it as a toothpick or skewer for grilling food.
From the family Apocynaceae or the dogbane family, Oleander has some of the same color shades as the Crepe Myrtle. Some people say Oleander is more of a noxious weed – but others are bewitched by its beauty. I personally think Oleander adds color to tropical gardens.
Oleander is especially appealing growing in median strips. However, I did not keep oleander in the backyard when I had a dog that liked to chew on plants. I also would not advise you grow Oleander if you have small children.
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International Oleander Society website at http://www.oleander.org/index.html
Medline Plus web site at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002884.htm