Monday, June 29, 2015



Commonly known simply as oleander, Nerium oleander is an evergreen shrub or small tree in the Apocynaceae family. The only species classified in the genus Nerium, it is thought to be native to the Mediterranean region. It is naturalized to a broad area from Mauritania, Morocco and Portugal eastward to the Arabian Peninsula and can be found in southern Asia, China and in the United States.

I had not noticed this plant until we started taking long car trips from Istanbul to Kuşadası in the 1970s. In the beginning of the summer, each time we passed near Manisa we used to see oleander bushes along the road and they would be harbingers of our destination being not too far from there on. N. oleander typically grows in dry stream beds.

N. oleander did not used to be cultivated as widely as it is today. Oleander increasingly became to be grown as an ornamental plant in landscapes and in parks and it became a desirable garden plant. It is being used as a median strip planting for highways. It can easily be grown into trees. “The plant will tolerate a wide range of conditions, including difficult soil, salt spray, high pH, severe pruning, reflected heat from pavements and walls, and drought”. It can withstand winter temperatures down to -10 degrees Centigrade.

Oleander grows to 2–6 m tall, with erect stems that splay outward as they mature. The leaves are in pairs or whorls of three, thick and leathery, dark-green, narrow lancoelate, 5–21 cm long and 1–3.5 cm broad. The flowers grow in clusters at the end of each branch; they are white, pink to red, 2.5–5 cm diameter. They are often, but not always, sweet-scented. The fruit is a long narrow capsule 5–23 cm long, which splits open at maturity to release numerous downy seeds. (

                                    Seed capsules

This is one of the most poisonous of commonly grown garden plants, however, there are few reported poising incidences of humans. All parts of the plant are generally considered toxic and the level of poisoning varies with the particular plant, part of the plant, and the amount consumed.

In Turkish the name of the plant is ‘zakkum’ from the Arabic (زقوم) word for it. According to Islam this is the tree with the deadly and bitter fruit that grows in hell. The tree found in paradise is ‘tuba’. It is fortunate that when the word is used to mean bitter or poisonous foodstuff it is pronounced as ‘zıkkım’ which is probably closer to the Arabic way of saying it and this means, in daily life people do not associate the pretty plant with any negative connotations. ‘Zıkkımın kökünü ye’- ‘eat the root of oleander’ is an expression uttered at times of annoyance when someone close does not like or eat what you have prepared for them. Not a nice thing to say.

          Bodrum, Turkey 2006                                                                                                       Cannes, France 1996

Oleanders bloom from May to October. Over 400 cultivars have been named and many of them have double flowers. I believe shades of apricot, salmon, purple and yellow have also been created.


  1. Lickily, they were still around when we took those drives, because I remember being told they meant we weren't far from our destination