The Nerium Genus (Oleander)

Nerium is a genus that consists of a single species, Nerium oleander, grown both in temperate and warm climates as an ornamental plant.

It’s so widespread that no one is precisely sure where it came from, which speaks of its popularity.

Oleander At A Glance

Growing as a shrub or a small tree, oleander belongs to the dogbane plant family, and produces five-petaled flowers in numerous colors.

Thanks to its adaptable nature, it’s grown across the world for its beauty, and has become highly hybridized, to the point where many colors and different forms are now available.

Make sure to choose your oleander plant carefully, not only for the different flowers and colors available, but also for their preferences in different growing conditions.

Some cultivars are more hardy than others, and you can also get dwarf cultivars if you don’t fancy growing a tree which may reach 20 feet tall.

Nerium Toxicity

Because the plant belongs to the dogbane plant family, it’s important to note that Oleander is extremely toxic, as many of its relatives share dangerous compounds.

While these chemicals don’t affect birds or rodents, for example, they have a profound effect on humans, dogs, and cats.

This makes it dangerous to have in gardens which see pets or children, as ingesting a tiny amount of any part is incredibly risky.

While the plant contains chemicals which makes the plant bitter, this is not enough of a safeguard to guarantee children or pets will leave the plant alone.

Signs of Nerium poisoning include stomach cramps, life-threatening heart issues, feeling sick, blurry vision, and death.

You don’t even have to ingest this plant to be poisoned by it. If the plant is burned, this can also cause serious health problems which can and will result in death.

If you suspect someone or your pet has been poisoned, get the appropriate medical advice the second you think of it.

Always wear gloves, and at least long sleeves when you handle an oleander.

Nerium Name Meaning

As the plant is known to grow by streams and rivers, the name Nerium comes from the Ancient Greek work nẽros, meaning water.

The name oleander refers to the foliage, which are very similar to that of olive trees. 

You may also see this plant labeled as Rose of Jericho, mentioned in apocryphal texts, dating back as far as 450 BC, which gives you some idea of how long we’ve been cultivating this plant as an ornamental. 

For the Ancient Greeks, this plant was also referred to as nerion, rhododendron, rhodon, and rhododaphne. The Romans had no specific name for the plant in Latin, and used the Greek names.

Oleander Flower Symbolism

Oleanders can symbolize a warning sign, probably linked to their toxicity, but they also have associations with romance, love, desire, and fate.

For more on nerium flower symbolism, visit Oleander Flower Meaning And Symbolism

Oleander Uses

Like other highly toxic plants, nerium has had some medical applications throughout history, such as an antidote to snake bites, as long as the plant was mixed with rue.

In some places, it was used to lift someone’s mood and improve their outlook, which is recorded in Inquiries into Plants by Theophrastus.

Some theorists have suggested that the High Priestess of the Temple of Apollo in Ancient Greece, also known as Pythia, would use oleander to bring on trances or visions. 

As an ornamental plant, we’ve been growing oleander for centuries. Fragments of carbonized oleander wood have been found in roman villas, particularly in Villa Poppaea, which were probably preserved by the ash of Mount Vesuvius, which erupted in 79 A.D.

Surviving murals from Pompeii and others in Italy often include oleander in garden scenes, demonstrating its popularity at the time, one which has never faded.

Nerium Growing Requirements

Oleanders are hardy in USDA zones 8 through to 11, though may be overwintered in colder climates in a sheltered position, such as by the side of your house in full sunlight.

Neriums bloom in spring, summer, and fall, allowing for plenty of color and perfume for most of the year.

When grown in the ground, oleanders can reach up to 20 feet high, and when they’re grown in containers, this is more likely to be up to 6 feet tall.

Oleanders can withstand soil which has a high level of salt, making them suitable for coastal gardens, where other plants would die.

These plants are very robust, able to withstand periods of drought, making them perfect for xeriscaping.

These plants love sunlight, so make sure to situate them somewhere where they can get as much sun as possible, in soil which has good drainage.

To really get the best out of these plants, the pH should be between 6.5 and 7.5.

Oleanders are very low maintenance plants, and don’t require a lot of irrigation to survive. As long as you situate it in an appropriate place, this shrub will flower for years to come.

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