Is Poisonous Oleander Toxic to Humans?

Popular for its vibrant flowers, the Oleander plant is a vibrant addition to the garden. A versatile specimen, its tolerant nature, meaning that it is able to withstand salt spray and drought makes it ideal for planting in a range of difficult conditions such as coastal gardens.

Sometimes called the Jericho Rose, these plants can provide a reliable windbreak, sheltering more exposed positions or can be used as a floral hedge. This versatility makes the Jericho Rose a highly desirable flower.

1 Poisonous oleander
The Jericho Rose is an attractive shrub that thrives in a range of planting positions.  

Unfortunately the Jericho Rose is also highly toxic. These desirable shrubs contain a mixture of toxins including cardiac glycosides. This makes the plants highly poisonous. Consuming any part of the plant, including the flower, leaf, stem and root, can cause serious illness or even, in the worst cases, death.

This guide to poisonous oleander is designed to explain why the plants are so dangerous and how to safely include them in your garden. We will also provide you with some Jericho Rose alternatives should you decide that the poisonous oleander plant is not something that you want to grow.

Why is the Jericho Rose Poisonous?

The Jericho Rose (Nerium Oleander) is part of the Apocynaceae plant family. Sometimes called Dogbane, Nerum or the Rose Laurel, the Jericho Rose contains high levels of cardiac glycosides. These are present in all parts of the plant, including the leaf, flower, root and stem.

Handling the plants can cause a reaction if you have sensitive skin. Wearing work gloves and long sleeves when handling offers you some protection. Washing your hands after handling the plants also helps to prevent reactions from developing.

2 Poisonous oleadner foliage
All parts of the Jericho Rose plant, including the foliage, contain potentially harmful toxins.

More seriously the plants are potentially deadly when consumed. This applies when the plants are alive and growing as well as when they are dry, dormant or even dead.

Additionally, the smoke created by burning dry branches or other shrub debris may cause a toxic reaction in the airways. If enough of the toxic smoke is inhaled it can impact the body’s entire system.

Symptoms of Jericho Rose Poisoning

A highly toxic plant there are numerous symptoms of Jericho Rose poisoning.

If consumed, the toxins contained in the plant can trigger symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. These include nausea, vomiting and a raised pulse.

The cardiac glycosides present in the plant include oleandrin, nerin, digitoxigenin and olinerin. If enough of the plant is consumed these toxins can quickly be absorbed into the bloodstream. Here, they may inhibit the action of the sodium-potassium pump in the cell membranes.

Cardiac glycosides can have a detrimental effect on your heart cells, increasing the pulse before slowing the heart rate and triggering arrhythmia. If not treated promptly the heart eventually slows, sending the sufferer into a potentially fatal coma.

Consuming poisonous oleander can also have a detrimental impact on the nervous system. The toxins in the plant can cause sleepiness, tremors, disorientation or seizures. Again, if left untreated, the sufferer may also collapse.

While accidentally consuming a little part of one leaf is unlikely to cause anything more than mild symptoms, this is not always the case. Reactions can vary between people. In some cases consuming just a small part of the plant may cause serious illness or even death. For this reason it is important to seek treatment as quickly as possible.

3 Handle poisonous oleander with care

Be careful when handling any part of the plant.

Touching the milky sap can also trigger a harmful reaction. While not as serious as consuming parts of the poisonous oleander plants, allowing the sap to contact the skin can still cause a serious reaction. In addition to cardiac glycosides, the sap of the shrub also contains saponins. These can cause skin irritation and inflammation of the eyes.

Burning plant debris can also trigger a reaction. Inhaling too much of the plant can irritate the mucus membranes, making you excessively salivate. It may also cause a burning sensation in or around the mouth.

Jericho Rose Poisoning Symptoms in Animals

The ASPCA says that all parts of the plant are toxic to many animals including livestock, budgies, dogs, cats, rabbits and horses. Symptoms include:

  • Vomiting,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Labored breathing,
  • High blood pressure,
  • Tremors,
  • Seizures,
  • Dehydration,
  • Shock
  • An abnormal heart rate.

Some animals, particularly dogs, may also drool excessively.

If you have livestock do not plant poisonous oleander near pens, pastures or barns.

What to do if Someone Consumes Part of the Plant

If an adult or child consumes any part of the plant, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Depending on the amount consumed you may be put through to the National Poison Control hotline who are able to direct you to the appropriate local emergency care location. The number for the United States Poison Control Hotline is 1-800-222-1222.

If your pets or any livestock consume any parts of the plant, contact your vet or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center immediately. The phone number for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is 1-888-426-4435.

How to Prevent Jericho Rose Poisoning

There are a number of ways that you can protect yourself from poisonous oleander.

The easiest way to protect yourself is to wear work gloves, long sleeves and some form of eye protection when handling the plants. Bag and dispose of any plant debris. Do not place it on a compost pile or burn it. Clean and sterilize your tools after using them.

If you decide to add the Jericho Rose to your garden, take the time to carefully consider the planting position. This is particularly important if you have young children or pets that may come into contact with the plant. Planting in a position that is difficult to reach helps to reduce the chances of children or animals accidentally consuming or contacting the plant.

If the plants are growing outside, watch small children and pets closely. Our guide to gardening with dogs is full of useful tips to help keep your pet safe in the garden.

Do not plant poisonous oleander in positions that are easily accessible such as near a sidewalk.

If you are growing in small pots or pots on a plant caddy, do not bring the plants inside to overwinter. Cats and young dogs in particular can be tempted to nibble the foliage. Luckily poisonous oleander has a bitter taste which means that only the most adventurous puppies or cats may try the leaves.

Do not plant poisonous oleander near a pond or water source. Leaves falling into the water, especially if they are not promptly cleared, may contaminate the water inadvertently poisoning any animal that happens to drink from it. This applies to any water source that animals may drink from. If you are growing poisonous oleander near a pond, covering the pond with RYG Koi Pond Netting helps to prevent debris from entering the water.

4 Plant poisonous oleander carefully

Choose your planting position carefully.

Do not plant poisonous oleander near a vegetable patch. While you are unlikely to mistake the Jericho Rose plant for a vegetable, the plants can shed their leaves. If these fall unnoticed onto the vegetable patch and become mixed with your produce, particularly leafy greens, they may be accidentally consumed.

Select your planting position carefully. The Jericho Rose is a large specimen, the largest types can reach 15 to 25 ft and can cast their leaves even further afield.

When harvesting your vegetable or fruit crop, if poisonous oleander is nearby, wear heavy duty gloves to protect yourself.

If you are at all concerned, plant an alternative.

Alternatives to Poisonous Oleander

There are a number of flowering shrubs that you can plant as an alternative to the Jericho Rose.

One of the best alternatives to poisonous oleander is Lemon Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus). An attractive specimen Lemon Bottlebrush has a similar mature height and spread to the Jericho Rose. While the Jericho Rose grows to a height of 6 to 10 ft, Lemon Bottlebrush grows slightly taller. Mature plants can reach between 6 and 12 ft depending on the growing conditions.

5 Lemon bottlebrush is poisonous oleander alternative

Popular with pollinators, Lemon Bottlebrush is a good alternative.  

Both the Lemon Bottlebrush and Jericho Rose are flowering shrubs. Whilst the Jericho Rose only flowers during the summer months, Lemon Bottlebrush blooms in both the spring and summer.

Similar in appearance, both plants have long, lance shaped gray-green leaves. The red flowers of the Lemon Bottlebrush, whilst colorful, are not fragrant. Instead the foliage emtis a pleasant citrus-like aroma.

Thriving in full sun positions and dry, warm climates, both plants grow in similar regions. However Lemon Bottlebrush is less cold tolerant. It is best planted in USDA Zones 8b to 10. Both the Jericho Rose and Lemon Bottlebrush are best planted in well draining soil. Once established,both are considered moderately drought tolerant.

Lemon Bottlebrush is not considered toxic. In fact the leaves can even be used to make herbal tea. The flowers are popular with both pollinators and hummingbirds. All of this makes Lemon Bottlebrush an attractive specimen plant that is ideal for planting in flower beds and container gardens.

An attractive, versatile plant, poisonous oleander is one of the most toxic plants that you can grow. If you do decide to add the Jericho Rose to your garden, our in depth care guide is filled full of useful information.

Poisonous Oleander 1 Poisonous Oleander 2

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