Oleander Death Wish

As some of you know, this blog was originally supposed to be about gardening. Or how much I sucked at it, that is. Thus the name: Thumbstumbler. And the picture of dead foliage on the header above. I decided after a couple of weeks of writing it, though, that the subject couldn’t sustain a blog — any more than I could sustain a garden. So I expanded. Now I write about how I suck at all kinds of things. (Sorry, Mom!)

But the garden remains, as do our efforts at its improvement. And really, it’s come a long way since we moved in. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no floral oasis. It’s no oasis at all. Although, technically, it is surrounded by desert. That’s pretty much where the similarity ends.

Still, as I haven’t in a while, I’ll take some time to document its present state in the days ahead. Starting with…

The oleander out front.

Oleanders are, apparently, the most poisonous tree in the world. According to one web site:

…this plant is so toxic that one single leaf could kill an adult human, while poisoning fatalities are known about that  have involved exposure, on a small scale, to twigs, blooms or  berries. Oleander plants harbor several lethal toxins, such as neroside, saponins and oleandroside, as well as cardiac glycosides. These toxins go to work quickly, upon ingestion, shutting down the cardio-vascular and nervous systems, after causing severe nausea and projectile vomiting.

OK, holy fucking shit. Why do we have such a tree on our property? Why does all of Los Angeles? What is the obssession with this particular flowering shrub, when so many others exist that can’t kill you with a splinter? That’s the first thing. I mean really. Is life not precarious enough without my having to worry about one of us tripping, falling, and accidentally ingesting a petal from this thing?

Secondly, why is this particular oleander so topsy turvey? It’s flowering briskly on one side, but not at all on the other. It looks like an arboreal ying yang. Which is appropriate, symbolically speaking, but not so good for aesthetics. Worse, many of its leaves are brown. I water it plenty. Could it be sick?

It turns out it could. Mike and I looked online and learned that there is a disease killing all of the oleanders in southern California. It starts with a browning of the leaves and proceeds ineluctably until the tree is dead. There is no treatment for it. Personally, I think this is a good thing. I think this disease — Oleander Leaf Scorch — is the Charles Bronson of the plant world. I think it’s taking down — old school style — a major botanic crime ring. It should be tracked down and given a medal. Or a Sheriff’s badge. Or an Oscar.

Am I going to get in trouble for saying this? Are oleander lovers everywhere going to come after me, sue me for defamation of plant character, and accuse me of inciting dendritic destruction? I don’t care. For I am now, officially, a charter member of BOPSBWOTFOTE — Believe Oleander Plants Should Be Wiped Off The Face Of The Earth.

But that’s just me.  Regardless, I’ll keep watering the thing, albeit begrudgingly. I’m no Charles Bronson, myself. If Leaf Scorch kills the thing — great. Otherwise? I’d rather just stay out of that part of the yard.

7 thoughts on “Oleander Death Wish

  1. Audrey

    That website is bananas. Oleander can be toxic, but you’d have to eat a bunch of leaves to get really sick. Quick search of Pub Med reveals several reassuring articles that say almost no one, including young children, dies from oleander poisoning.



    The second article states that even people who try to kill themselves with oleander don’t usually succeed. So, you guys will probably be fine.

    Anecdotally, my chickens live right next to three oleanders that drop flowers and leaves all the time and they are still live.

  2. Carrie

    I went nuts after our first child was born and made my husband remove an enormous oleander from our yard. It took three grown men to remove that sucker but I wasn’t taking any chances. I’m also delighted to hear about the Leaf Scorch, heh heh.

    1. thumbstumbler Post author

      Nice to know I’m not the only one. Having heard from Audrey that they’re not that poisonous after all, though, I feel badly that I celebrated their possible demise. But I still give ours a wide berth.

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