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Monday, March 12, 2012

Is Oleander the "Bad Boy" of Landscaping?

Oleander as a tee form

Q. I am on the landscaping committee in my community and we have had several people question us about the oleander shrubs in the community.  Are they allowed or have they been banned like the olive trees?

A. No, they have not been banned. This poor plant has been so maligned over the years it is incredible. It has been singled out as a scary plant of some sort. It’s the “Bad Boy” of desert landscapes.

            Yes, it is poisonous along with 100 other plants in our landscape. Is it more poisonous than others? Yes, it is more poisonous than many others but there are other landscape plants that are equally or even more poisonous than oleander. We just don’t talk about them.

            Does its pollen cause allergies? No. The pollen is relatively heavy and sticky and does not travel very far on wind currents. Oleanders do not rely on wind for pollination but instead rely on pollinators like bees.

            Frequently, plants with very showy flowers are typically insect-pollinated. Plants which do not have showy flowers frequently are wind pollinated and their pollen must travel long distances. Acacia, Mesquite contribute much more to allergy problems than oleanders.

            Oleanders are beautiful plants for the desert and can take a tremendous amount of abuse. However, they are also high water users when watered to keep them full and showy. They are tough, drought tolerant plants if not given enough water or under watered.

            When water is reduced, their visual quality is reduced considerably but they can survive.


  1. I did not intend to comment on these older posts. But I too have an affection for the hardy evergreen oleander. And a pox on those who disparage her.

    Mine are planted along the front of my property and kept under seven feet in height, though they can grow well above 30 feet tall and have greater than 6 inch diameter trunks if allowed. Mine (in Phoenix, AZ) are never supplementary watered. They live off of the irrigation and do well year-round. Because I keep them trimmed they generally don't flower much. But when they do around my area the produce a verdant bank of white, red and hybrid pink varieties that have showy blooms for several weeks. Don't see too many pollinators, but wasps like to occasionally build nests. Birds hang out.

    Advantages: Great privacy wall, acoustic barrier, and wind barrier. I have to trim them four times a year to maintain height under seven feet.

    Disadvantage: If you change your mind they have to be dug completely out or they will spring back up---about 4-6 feet down. Some people get skin irritations when trimming. No hallucinogenic properties whatsoever---what kind of poison is that!

  2. I was born in 1955. My aunt's house was basically "home" away from home. Their (she and my uncle's) whole property line on one side was nothing but oleanders. I was basically born being told, "Those oleanders are poisonous. Do not put your fingers in your mouth. Be sure you wash your hands...." Well, I never got poisoned by oleanders. And, I'm still here. And, I still LOVE oleanders.

  3. I suppose the greatest danger from oleanders, is if a toddler happens to ingest any of it's poisonous leaves, in which case death is highly probable! As a boy I came into contact with lots of oleanders, but had no desire to put any in my mouth! I like their looks when they bloom and they are very hardy. In fact I just planted four of them on the West side of my house, to provide shade during the hot Arizona summers.They are hard to get rid of once established, so Chinese Elm may have been a better choice, but just not as showy.