QUESTION: How poisonous is oleander to humans? I’m considering adding one to my garden and want to know the risks. — Nathan Y.
ANSWER: The oleander plant is one of the most toxic you can have in your garden. A person can die from just chewing part of a leaf or using the stems to skewer food. All parts of the oleander plant are toxic, including the leaves, stems, seeds, flowers, and nectar inside the flowers. Honey made from oleander flowers is also poisonous. Children have died from just sucking the nectar from the flowers.
Because of the dangers, you shouldn’t plant oleander where children or pets (because oleander is also toxic to animals) will play. Some gardeners decide that the risks are too high even in households made up solely of adults. If you’re considering adding an oleander plant to your garden, here’s everything you should know about the plant’s toxicity.
Two cardiac glycosides called oleandroside and nerioside, along with digitoxigenin, neriin, and oleandrin, are what makes oleander poisonous.
Symptoms of ingestion include diarrhea, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, nausea, serious stomach pain, vomiting, and weakness. People who have consumed oleander may also have dilated eyes. If poisoning is serious, effects can include respiratory paralysis, coma, or death.
If you think someone has oleander poisoning, contact your doctor immediately, call the Poison Control Centers at 1-800-222-1222, or go to the emergency room. Do not have someone who has consumed oleander vomit unless directed to do so by a medical professional.
Touching the oleander plant is not as dangerous, but can cause skin irritation, especially if your skin comes into contact with the sap inside the plant.
The plant is also toxic to pets. Symptoms of oleander poisoning in an animal include colic, diarrhea which may contain blood, difficulty breathing or shallow breathing, loss of coordination, and sweating. Animals that have consumed oleander may also be unable to stand or have muscle tremors. If you think an animal has oleander poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately.
- Because oleander is so toxic and because of the skin irritation it can cause, you should wear gardening gloves whenever you work with oleander.
- Whenever you work with oleander, wash your hands immediately afterward. (Yes, even though you were wearing gloves.)
- Clean and sterilize your gardening tools after they come into contact with oleander. You can soak them in a mixture of half water and half alcohol for five minutes, then rinse them and let them air dry.
- Do not burn oleander clippings or any part of the plant. The smoke can cause both skin and throat irritation.
- Do not include oleander in a compost heap.
- If you need to dispose of oleander clippings or any debris from an oleander plant, pick it up—wearing gloves—and put it into a trash bag. Then discard it along with your other trash. (Then wash your hands.)
Now you have the information you need to make an informed decision about whether to grow oleander in your garden. It is a lovely plant, but you may decide that the risks outweigh the benefits. If you do decide to grow oleander, this article has given you a list of precautions to take with it in the garden to keep you safe.