poetry, plants and poison

Other than the gourd patch down in the orchard, one of the few bright spots in the garden at the moment is the uncontrollable oleander outside my study window.

red oleander flowers
I say “uncontrollable” as it has been ruthlessly cut back a couple of times and tied back with twine, rope and clothes line and still manages to break free enough to block the driveway. At least this year it isn’t covered in black fly and other bugs.

Oleanders grow everywhere in Spain: they straggle all along the central divide of dual carriageways, around the edges of municipal car parks, from dusty patches of dry dirt outside traditional covered markets… they seem to be the go-to plant for local councils to use to stop soil erosion. But seeing how spindly they always are in public places, I never expected this one to grow quite so large.

Despite their ubiquity I seem only to have one poem with an oleander in. I posted it here a couple of years ago, but I have three excuses for posting it again: firstly, there are a lot more readers now who probably haven’t read it; secondly, I remember drafting it on a night train journey to Catalonia, a journey I hope to repeat this coming weekend; and thirdly, it’s one of the pieces in my book Around the Corner from Hope Street, which is shortly going to be available as ePub and iBook with illustrations from Lance Tooks.


The silent fanfare of the moon
scatters the clouds. Sodium globes loom
in oleander dark. Two pairs of footsteps
dodge round orange pools
and pause
on the corner
where kisses grow.

More information about Hope Street here soon, and also on the earlier DCTN post The Next Big Thing.

One final point about the oleander: I knew it was a poisonous plant, but I hadn’t realised just how bad it was. This news report describes it as one of the five most poisonous plants on the planet and says that since 2004 the adelfa has been on the list of plants whose sale is prohibited or restricted due to their toxicity. The guy in the shop didn’t tell me that when he sold it to me.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

3 thoughts on “poetry, plants and poison”

  1. Oleanders and many other ornamental plants are poisonous, they have been woman’s resource for revenge, sometimes fatal.Oleanders can be readily bought in Spain, I guess that ban is effective on public gardens or new gardening contracts on public grounds , but one can easily buy them for private gardens. They grow in the wild just about anywhere in Spain. If you want to attract attention on something just ban it. We should plant more forget-me-nots.
    Another imported popular poisonous plant is the Poinsetia, a Christmas best seller. There are other plants commonly sold at garden centers that can give you some “high” or fatal times like Salvia divinorum, a blue flowered salvia with properties similar to LSD.I guess that if you look in the BOE, you are likely to find Sarracens trumpets as well(Datura stramonium) and that also may explain why there are meigas in Galicia(witches) are ever so present in their culture and in their gardens.

    There is, by the way, a nice play by Rabindranath Tagore called “Red Oleander”. It is about the fight of good and evil, ecology, industrial exploitation and the race for unnecessary progress. Inicidentally a friend of mine was given the main characters name : Nandini. Despite the fact that she sometimes has mixed feeling about her name, it is ever so appealing and musical…


    1. We have forget-em-nots here, but they are tiny tiny wild ones, not the more showy garden variety.

      I knew oleanders were poisonous (a friend wanted to be a child minder in California but was told she’d have to get rid of half the garden plants if she were to run the business from home). I just didn’t know they were up in the planet’s top five and it surprised me, given their ubiquity here in Spain.


  2. Forgot to mention that rhododendrons and azaleas are also poisonous, some more than others. In the Helespont campaign the greeks led by Mithridates or Heptakometes left behind poisoned honey gathered by bees from “Rhododendron ponticum” and poisoned the roman legions of Pompey. The greek learnt it, possibly three centuries before, from what is writen in the Anabasis when the greeks of Xenophon where poisoned by the persians using the same stratagem.
    The active principle, grayanatoxins, are also found in mountain laurel.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: