Nerium oleander [ Plantae: Angiosperms: Eudicots: Asterids: Gentianales: Apocynaceae: Apocynoideae: Wrightieae: Nerium: Nerium oleander ]
Common Names: Oleander
Commom from Morocco to Portugal eastward into the Mediterranean and throughout southern Asia to Yunnan and southern China.
The Oleander tree is a poisonous evergreen shrub or small tree that grows upwards of 2-6 meters tall with spreading or erect branches sprouting thick and leathery dark green narrow lanceolate leaves in pairs or whorls of three, upwards of 5-21 cm long, 1-4 cm broad with a margin; blossoming white / pink / red/ or yellow 2.5-5 cm diameter flowers in clusters at the end of each branch with deep 5 lobed corollas with a fringe round the central corolla tube. These produce long narrow capsulated fruits 5-23 cm long that open at maturity to release numerouse downy seeds.
Grows typically around dry stream beds. Best in warm subtropical regions. It is drought tolerant and tolerate occasional light frost. It is deer resistant and tolerant of poor soils and drought. It is very easy to grow as it is adaptable and requires little maintenance able to survive without water for weeks.
Gardening ornamental, oddly very common in school yards though very toxic to children.
If ingested in sufficient quantity is very toxic.
Oleander is one of the most poisonous plants in the world with numerous toxic compounds. The most potent toxins in oleander are oleandrin and neriine which are cardiac glycosides which are present in all parts of the plant, concentrated in the sap. The bark contains rosagenin known for its strychnine-like effects. Upwards of 10-20 leaves consumed by an adult can create adverse reactions and a single leaf lethal to a child. In Southern India, mashing and ingesting oleander seeds are a common method for suicide. Ingestion creates gastrointestinal and cardiac effects, with nauseau, vomiting, excess salivation, abdominal pain, diarrhea with or withou blood, and colic. Poisoning requires immediate treatment, with charcoal being common to absorb toxins and digoxin immune fab as the best antidote. It is very toxic to livestock with as little as 100 g of leaves able to kill a adult horse. There are internet rumors that Oleander is a potential treatment for skin cancer and for anti-viral treatments. It has been endorsed in the supplement “OPC Extract” for its use in treating HIV.
Folklore and History: Its name was derived from the old latin name for flower used first in the ancient city of Volubilis in Morocco. Pliny the Elder wrote in 77 CE that despite its toxicity was a effective snakebite cure if taken in wine with rue. Historically used in Mesopotamia 15th c. BCE for healing; Babylonians mixed oleander with licorice to treat hangovers, and Arab physicians used it as a cancer treatment as early as 8th century CE. The Bible refers to Oleander as “the Desert Rose”.