Yellow oleander
 

 

 

Yellow terror: Despite its pretty appearance, the yellow oleander conceals a poison that packs a serious punch.

 

Not 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 more.

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 explain.

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 poisonous.

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.

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