During this wet weather, the dogs and I have had to find something to do besides gardening. So, we have been cooking a lot, and eating, and cleaning, and eating, and organizing, then eating, and, oh yes, putting together jigsaw puzzles. My husband recently purchased 20, yes, twenty puzzles for me at a garage sale. I picked out the two with garden themes and donated the rest. I finished one, and was starting another when I realized: I used to be into extreme sports; now I do garden-themed jigsaw puzzles . . . .
I opened the box and dumped the pieces onto my “special” jigsaw puzzle board. As I was sorting pieces and studying the picture on the box, I noticed that some of the flowers in the jigsaw puzzle were Oleander. Icky! I don’t like Oleander. I will never plant it in my garden, and I don’t want it in my garden-themed jigsaw puzzle, either.
Oleander (Nerium) freaks me out because it is so toxic. Every part of the plant is toxic. It is one of the most poisonous of commonly grown garden plants.
I have heard many stories since childhood regarding Oleander’s dangerous characteristics. At some point in American Urban Legend history, a whole troop of Boy Scouts cut sticks from an Oleander shrub and used said sticks to roast hot dogs. Because of the close contact with the Oleander, the dogs turned deadly. After ingestion of the fatal franks, the whole troop perished.
As it turns out, you have to ingest Oleander in order to die from it. You have to eat the actual plant material itself. Skin contact, or even food contact with the plant material won’t kill you, e.g., hot dog roasted on an Oleander stick. Yes, every part of the plant is toxic, but you actually have to put the leaves or what have you in your mouth chew it and swallow it in order for it to be fatal. The jury is still out on how much you actually have to ingest in order to die.
Which is exactly why I don’t use them for landscaping, even though they are foolproof. On any given day, I have many doggie guests at my house, and the thought of them getting near this plant makes me nervous. You never know what will strike a dog’s fancy when they get in the mood to nibble. They can eat all the plums and tomatoes they want; the worst of it will be some tell-tale yellow fur around the mouth and possibly an extra nap. Nerium grows beautifully in locations with mild winters. It is drought tolerant and does well in crappy soil. In fact, it grows so well in less-than-desirable conditions that it has become the darling of the California freeway shoulder and median strip.
Nerium is also the official flower of the city of Hiroshima. Why? It was the first flower to bloom after the atomic bombing. Hmmm. Need I say more?