Nothing proves the saying “Beautiful but deadly” harder than the Oleander, whose beauty hides a sinister secret and many Oleander flower symbolisms.
Oleander is most known for being gorgeous and toxic. This attractive flowering shrub – with dainty blooms in colors almost as plentiful as the meanings – is poisonous. The Oleander symbolizes caution, wariness, distrust, everlasting love, understanding, romance, desire, and destiny. And it has a rich history in multiple cultures and religions.
What is Oleander
Oleander goes by many names, including desert rose, Rose bay, Rhododendron, or its botanical name Nerium oleander. This species is the sole member of the Nerium genus, classified as the family Apocynaceae – dogbane.
Nerium comes from the Greek word nerion – meaning plant. Nerion then comes from neros – the Greek word for water. This reference is due to the tree’s preference to grow near water.
The exact origins are unclear, as there are multiple credits to the flower’s namesake. However, Romans have used the word oleander dating back to the first century AD.
Another theory is that oleander combines Olea (olive) and Rhododendron due to shared resemblances. But yet another option is that the word is from the Greek words ollyo (I kill) with aner (man) – translated to I kill man – due to the plant’s toxicity.
Brief History of Oleander
Evidence of Oleander growth has been found in prominent ancient gardens worldwide from China to Rome. There have even been findings of mass plantings and painted murals in Pompeii.
This Mediterranean-native arrived in the West Indies from British colonialists. Then they rapidly started to migrate to other warm regions. Finally, Spanish settlers introduced Oleander to North America in the 1560s. It now grows across the globe, cultivated in gardens or grown wild along the banks of rivers and streams.
Characteristics, Symbolisms, Fragrances, and Traits
You’ll find oleander referenced in multiple cultures throughout history. Its experiences and stories earn this flower numerous meanings.
In Victorian times, Oleander stood for caution or beware. It referenced the challenges of romantic affairs and love. Other meanings include destiny, desire, distrust, and romance. And according to Greek mythology, flower meanings include charm and endless love.
These woody shrubs – or sometimes Oleander trees – can grow to heights of 6′ to 16-feet and up to 10-feet in width. The Oleander flower has an appealing light apricot-like fragrance and a showy funnel petal arrangement that comes in:
Foliage is 6″ clumped broadleaves with a dark green and smooth leather texture. As an evergreen, this shrub keeps its green leaves year-round.
Cultural Significance of Oleander
Italian belief says that gifting an Oleander flower for an indoor gift or bringing the flowers inside a person’s house is wishing them ill will, misfortune, or disgrace.
Religious symbolisms include this flower’s mention in the Christian bible, for traditions of Rose of Jericho and St. Joseph’s Staff. The Mishnah has multiple mentions in the Talmud. And many Hindus in India put oleanders on dead bodies.
Art of the Flower that represents death appears in Pompeii and many other works of art, including a painting by van Gogh, novels, and songs.
Different Oleander Colors and Their Symbolism
The color of the Oleander flower can have individual significance.
White Oleander flowers mean peace or truce during conflict or disharmony. (See: 65 Types of White Flowers)
Red is symbolic of passion and love. But also mourning or death. (See: 67 Types of Red Flowers)
Pink symbolizes grace and feminine beauty. Or it can be cleansing, spiritual healing, or innocence of a woman. (See: 45 Types of Pink Flowers)
Purple represents bravery and great strength, devotion, or inspiration as a herald blossom. (See: 60 Types of Purple Flowers)
Uses and Benefits of Oleander
The Oleander contains highly dangerous toxins – cardenolide glycosides – that are poisonous to people, pets (including horses), and livestock.
Ingestion of any part of the Oleander can cause vomiting, dizziness, nausea, stomach pains, an irregular heartbeat, and the risk of death. Even the plant’s sap can irritate the skin.
However, it is used to make a cardiac medication given as an alternative to digitalis. A few folk remedies using this flower include treating ulcers, snakebites, cancer, and leprosy. It also has anti-bacterial and diuretic properties.
Growing and Caring for Oleander
Oleander is a drought-resistant outdoor plant, only requiring a good watering of 2″ weekly when you’re experiencing severe dry spells.
You’ll need a planting site with fertile, alkaline soil and full sun, although they can also survive in partial shade. Blooming is through spring and summer. However, flowers can continue through early fall or year-round in warmer climates.
When is the Best Time to Send Someone an Oleander Gift?
Whether live or potted, you can gift Oleander flowers for various occasions or as a cut floral arrangement. Give for holiday celebrations or birthdays.
Oleander has roots in Greek mythology and the story of Leander. This fable goes that during courtship with a maiden, Leander spent every night swimming across the Gallipoli Straight to meet his lady.
However, he drowned one night after getting caught in a storm. After his death, his beloved traveled up and down the beach, wailing Leander’s name. His body later washed up on shore; a bouquet still clutched in his hand. His lover planted these, and their growth symbolized their endless love.
Interesting facts about Oleander
Want to know even more about the Oleander? Check out these interesting facts.
- This flower is significant in pagan and early Christian religions.
- Viewed in many places as God’s feminine face.
- Mesopotamians regarded the plant for healing, although they later realized you shouldn’t have Oleander in the bedroom
- Arabic used Oleander as a cancer treatment.
- Romans used it to treat hangovers.
Here are some frequently asked questions about oleander and its symbolism.
What Do Oleanders Symbolize?
Oleanders are symbolic of caution, wariness, desire, everlasting love, and romance.
What Does Red Oleander Symbolize?
Red Oleanders symbolize love and passion.
What Flower Symbolizes Healing?
A few flowers that symbolize healing include sage, dandelion, camelia, verbena, Azalea, Malva, Daisy, Monarda, and Verbascum.
What Flower Symbolizes Strength?
Flowers that represent strength include Gladiolus, Coneflowers, Cinquefoil, Cistus, Blue Star, Scorpionweed, Masterwort, Camas (Quamash), Columbine, Allium, Valerian, Dragon Flower (Snapdragon), and Barrenwort (Horny Goat Weed, Bishop’s Hat).
Is Oleander Poisonous?
Every part of the Oleander plant is poisonous and potent. History shows multiple ancient cultures using the plant for poisons. As little as a few leaves in a water bowl is enough to kill cats or dogs.
What is the Symbolism of an Oleander Tattoo?
An Oleander tattoo can represent frailty, caution, or delicate nature.
Plant an Oleander shrub or tree around your outdoor space if you love to live on the wild side. Just be sure to keep it out of the reach of pets, people – especially young children – and livestock. You can use this flower to symbolize caution, wariness, or distrust. Or positive feelings of everlasting love, desire, understanding, or romance.