so mellow yellow
I know youíll find
this difficult to believe, but I have on occasion
been known to be a bit cynical. I just donít trust
people. I donít trust mechanics who tell me that my
whole gearbox needs replacing when thereís actually
a loose nut inside that needs tightening. Iím wary
of anyone who assures me that my giving them several
thousand baht is a sure-fire way to make millions
I donít believe the photocopier repair man at work
when he says that heíll be round within the hour to
fix the same problem heís been out to fix several
hundred times before. Inevitably, his declaration
that the fault has now been cured once and for all
falls on deaf ears. He means well, but I know heíll
be back next week.
Then there are the people you know you just canít
trust. World leaders who try to convince the rest of
the world that certain countries deserve to be
invaded because they might, just might, be hiding
the odd weapon of mass destruction that nobody has
been able to find.
My most vivid memory of a man not to be trusted was
my childhood dentist. He was afflicted with a
medical condition that gave him uncontrollable
shakes. Every time he pronounced that a filling was
in order, his oscillating hand of doom containing
genuine weapons of mass destruction entered my
mouth, with malice aforethought.
ďJust a few seconds,Ē he would always say, as that
awful sounding torture device burrowed its way
through the enamel, tunneling down the nerve that
was very much doing its job, and communicating his
actions in no uncertain terms.
Unfortunately, the Novocain was always distributed
around various random areas of my palate, with the
exception of the spot that really needed it. It
hurt. A lot. ďA few secondsĒ? Bollocks.
It didnít take long for a deep feeling of distrust
to develop there. So much so that I didnít even
bother with the Novacain Ė it was easier. Iím not
sure that I have any faith in anything a dentist has
said to me to this day.
There are many plants you shouldnít trust any more
than photocopier repair men, world leaders or
dentists. They may look spectacular, and do a
wonderful job of just doing the plant thing, sitting
in a corner and brightening up the garden. But
thereís a dark side to their character.
Despite their style and good looks, many of the
plants we have here are poisonous, and are just
itching (inevitable, I know) to get you. One of the
more malevolent good lookers in Phuket, found all
over the island and Thailand in general, is the
yellow oleander. Itís also known as the lucky nut,
and really is out to get you. Thereís nothing lucky
about this insidious plant.
Just about every part of it is extremely poisonous.
Its forebears have certainly created some positive
PR for the plant, as the almost continuous displays
of bright yellow flowers are always spectacular.
Thatís the catch Ė it just doesnít look as if it
would harm a hair on your head. At least poisonous
toadstools do a reasonable job of warning you off;
they work on the premise that something as ugly as
that should be avoided.
As a colorful
addition to your garden, the yellow oleander does
the job very effectively. Itís another easy-care
shrub that requires minimal maintenance. Thereís a
whole row of them near some apartments in Rawai that
Iím sure nobody has done anything to for years Ė no
water or pruning or any degree of care whatsoever,
but they still look amazing.
The yellow oleander can be trained into an
impressive small tree if you remove the suckers that
regularly appear at the base Ė thereís a bit of a
warning about this later. It also does well as a
quick-growing screen. Plant a few of them on five-
to seven-foot centers, and a row of oleander makes a
rather effective barrier between you and your
too-inquisitive-for-his-own-good next-door neighbor.
The bright yellow
flowers that decorate the plant almost non-stop are
funnel-shaped, and appear at the ends of stalks
sporting long, shiny leaves. This is a clue.
Generally speaking, if you see a plant with smooth,
shiny leaves itís very likely to be poisonous. Iím
not sure why, but it seems to be the case. Iím sure
that someone who understands these things would
And this one is very
poisonous. The nastiest parts of the plant are the
leaves, the small green fruit that appears after the
flowers and the white rubbery latex that oozes from
cuts in the stem. Come to think of it, you canít
really trust any part of it. The sap is not nice
stuff, so you definitely need to wear gloves when
pruning it, which it will need on a regular basis.
Someone with far too much time on their hands came
up with a whole list of really stupid things you
shouldnít do with oleander. Please bear in mind that
these are all things you shouldnít do. Neither I,
nor the publishers of the Gazette, will listen to
anyone who chooses not to read it.
Please, donít use stripped oleander twigs to
barbecue your sausages at your next barbecue. Donít
whittle whistles out of the branches. Donít let your
dog or cat get its roughage intake from the
oleander. Donít put a bee hive next to a yellow
oleander and harvest the honey. Donít burn the
cuttings, as even the smoke produced is still
You may snigger in disbelief, but all
the above incidents are on record as having
happened. Even the honey story is true Ė there is
evidence that a woman nearly died from honey
poisoning; all down to the yellow oleander.
If you have kids who would like to collect the cute
ďlucky nutsĒ that appear on the yellow oleander, or
a pet that has a heart of gold but is totally
clueless, then the yellow oleander isnít the ideal
addition to the garden. If neither of these apply,
and your idea of tending the garden is to sit back
with a beer and admire it, itís perfect.
The yellow oleander is sneaky, and will inflict harm
upon you at every given opportunity. At least when
the yellow oleander delivers the blow, it wonít,
like your friendly state-licensed dental torturer,
hand you a bill for the privilege.