Yellow Oleander - another "Least Favorite Plant"


My friends Kelly and Erik at Homegrown Evolution have an interesting post about another one of their least favorite plants -- the poisonous Yellow Oleander.

Thumbing through a book of toxic and hallucinogenic plants, I finally manged to i.d. the neighbor's shrub that looms over the staircase to our front door. The popular name given for this plant in the book was "suicide tree", so named for its use in Sri Lanka, though I've found other plants with this same moniker. The scientific name is Thevetia peruviana, and it's also known as "lucky nut" (can we change that to unlucky nut please), Be Still Tree (presumably because you'll be still if you eat any of it), and yellow oleander (it's a relative of Southern California's favorite freeway landscaping flower).
Yellow Oleander - another "Least Favorite Plant"


  1. The common variety found in CA makes a good freeway divider. It survives on little water and the growth is quite dense. In one movie with Vincent Price it was used as a murder weapon. It was placed in his sick wife’s room and the aroma greatly aggravated her condition.

  2. It is a great plant for Calif freeways — drought resistant, beautiful flowers. In fact it is a popular hedging and once established needs no care besides the annual pruning.
    While I get that it is harmful, it just shows that beauty can be dangerous as well. Since when do all plants have to be beneficial? The original post makes it out to be a useless thing.

  3. There seems to be a direct relationship between a plant’s ability to kill you and your inability to kill it. These things are indestructible. They also have flowers that turn black and gross and get into the pool filter when they’re not busy turning black and gross and making you slip on the pool decking.

  4. I know I’ve read of the other oleander being used as garnish in a restaurant (no fatality), and another account of fatalities from someone camping who used it as a skewer for a cook out.
    Possibly urban legend, but it is a legitamitely dangerous plant.

  5. A friend of mine ate one on a whim without knowing it was poisonous. She halucinated for three days but seems to be OK now. I’m not sure why, but she opted not to go to the hospital or see a doctor.

  6. I remember a story from when I visited my uncle in California in the early 80’s where someone baked it into a pie in order to commit murder.
    Of course, I was about 8 years old then, and so he could have just passing on a version of an urban legend to creep me out.

    And apparently that boy scouts die from roasting hot dogs on it story is OLD

  7. it also happen to be an excellent source for biodiesel, the nut contains over 30% oil and it grows well in arid and semi arid areas and is not eaten by elephants. im growing alot in kenya to power my tractor.

  8. I don’t know about Oleander, but I used to have Wolfsbane growing in my garden. Always best to be prepared for the werewolf apocalypse.

  9. I moved into my house 3 years ago in Tempe, AZ and I have 8 Yellow Oleander trees. The grow like crazy with almost no water and the are messy as hell. They give decent shade though.

    Someday, I’ll get rid of them, but not now.

    Oh, my dog ate a blossom when he was a puppy. My wife swung into action and induced vomiting with mustard or something. The dog is doing well!

  10. #8
    Here in the states, the oleander is also quite elephant resistant. Can vouch that I have seen absolutely no elephants within miles of any patch of oleander.

  11. When it comes to arid landscaping options, I would gladly tolerate a modest and easily trained oleander before I’d consider planting a Mexican Petunia. Once established, it is nigh impossible to remove, spreading by roots AND seed pods that “pop” when exposed to water (making them an enticing plaything for children, a sly evolutionary tactic to help spread the plants even further afield)

    I am -constantly- at war with my neighbor’s bordering examples which long to spread across my yard, it’s no small fight for someone who refuses to pour poisons on the ground.

  12. Man, this takes me back. We used to have one of these in the yard while I was growing up. My parents’ strong warnings about how poisonous the thing was were an integral part of my childhood.

    It grows quite happily, and is just as exotic, in South Africa.

    Actually, now I dig deeper: in South Africa it’s considered a class one invasive species under the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act of 2004, meaning:

    “plants that must be controlled (removed) on land or water surfaces by all land users. These plants may no longer be planted or propagated and all trade in their seeds, cuttings or any other propagation material is prohibited.”

    (That is, it’s illegal to even have this on your property.)

  13. #3, Antinous:

    There seems to be a direct relationship between a plant’s ability to kill you and your inability to kill it.

    Not necessarily- Japanese knotweed and Kudzu are edible, ridiculously invasive, and hard to control.

  14. Elephant story reminds me of a rather Edwardian period joke from England of the man who rolled up pieces of newspaper and threw them out of the train window while traveling. When asked why he responded that it kept the elephants away. When told there were no roaming elephants in England he replied, “Damned effective!”

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