Nerium oleander (oleander)

When you go on holiday abroad you often see beautiful flowering plants that you recognise as being house plants here in the UK. Many years ago whilst traveling through Australia I was enthralled by such a shrub which was being used as hedging between fields, it was covered in pretty pink flowers which were delicately scented. When I researched it at the time I found out that it was Nerium Oleander and the fact that stayed with me in particular was that it was highly poisonous to animals and to humans.

This thought has stayed with me ever since and Oleander has always been on my list of ‘disliked’ plants. Imagine my surprise when we moved into our new home, to find our neighbours growing it in a pot on their patio. I really like my new neighbours but I had to question James’s taste in plants. James explained to me that he had lived in Zimbabwe for many years and that it reminded him of happy times there. Fortunately,  due to the very harsh winter that we had in Oxfordshire the Oleander perished and I thought no more about it until we were recently on holiday in Croatia and there it was in pale and dark pinks, whites and even double flowered, beautifully scented and looking absolutely splendid against bright blue skies.

I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and to do a bit more research on it. I didn’t get very far before my initial reaction was reinforced, this came from a good, but quite controversial book that I was reading which suggested that poison from Oleander is currently used in some instances to kill unwanted baby girls in Northern India. 

Oleander is considered to be extremely toxic to humans, pets, livestock and birds. The most significant of these toxins are oleandrin and neriine; they are present in all parts of the plant, but are most concentrated in the sap. Oleander bark contains rosagenin, which is known for its strychnine-like effects. The entire plant, including the nectar is toxic, and any part can cause an adverse reaction. Ingestion causes nausea, vomiting, cardiac arrhythmia, hypotension and death. The sap has even been used as rat poison.  Dried or fresh branches of Oleander should not be used for spearing food, for preparing a fire, or as a food skewer, it even holds its toxicity after drying.

I have to say that it is very attractive, but in my opinion no-one should be encouraged to grow such a toxic plant. So, sorry James, but on reflection I actually think that it should be banned from sale in the UK.

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