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What is an Oleander?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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An oleander is a plant native to the Mediterranean, parts of the Middle East, and Asia. Nerium oleander, as it is formally known, is used in ornamental gardens and landscaping all over the world. This plant is infamous for its toxicity, containing a number of compounds which can be extremely dangerous to ingest. Oleanders are particularly dangerous for young children and pets because the fatal dosage can be relatively small.

In nature, oleanders tend to have a bushy growth habit, although in gardens, they may be cultivated to grow into trees. The plants have long, leathery green leaves which grow in clusters of three, and tube-shaped flowers which can be purple, pink, or white. Some more exotic cultivars come in colors like yellow and red as well. These plants take well to pruning and shaping, allowing gardeners to direct their growth patterns, although when left alone, they tend to be leggy, with sprawling growth.

Oleanders are evergreen, retaining their foliage throughout the year and blooming in the spring and summer months. Some plants have scented flowers, while others remain unscented, and some people find the smell very pleasureable. Numerous cultivars have been developed, and garden stores which stock oleander often carry several varieties and can order more by request. Some gardeners also enjoy developing their own cultivars by crossbreeding their plants with each other to bring out desirable traits.

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These plants are primarily grown in subtropical climates. They enjoy dry conditions, and can grow in poor soil as long as they do not have very much competition. They are also very fast growers, developing and filling out quickly. Gardeners can use oleanders to create privacy screens, backsplashes of color, or focal points around the garden. Oleander is also deer resistant, which can be beneficial for gardeners living in areas where deer are common; the plants can be used to create a screen around the garden which will make it unappealing to deer.

All parts of the oleander plant are toxic. People have even gotten sick after consuming honey made by bees which frequent oleander plants. If a person or pet ingests oleander, medical attention should be sought immediately. Prompt intervention by a doctor, or veterinarian in the case of a pet, is necessary to treat oleander poisoning. People should be careful about using oleander cuttings for decoration, and they should avoid establishing oleander plants in areas where children and animals are common.

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