Spoiler alert: This post is not going to include photos of eco prints to inspire you.
Instead, today we are dealing with a dark plant: the oleander. Getting good information about the botanical elements around us, even if they are not suited for printing, is essential for the ecoprinter´s knowledge.
Nerium oleander, most commonly known as oleander or nerium, is a shrub or small tree cultivated worldwide in temperate and subtropical areas as an ornamental and landscaping plant. Its beautiful flowers can be white, pink or red.
The magnificent Adenium belongs to the same family.
The name “nerium” was given to this plant by the Roman-Greek researcher
Dioscorides (First century AD). It is curious that Oleander was already a very popular ornamental shrub in Roman peristyle gardens; it is one of the flora most frequently depicted at least 2000 years ago on murals in Pompeii.
Mural in Pompeii
There are also wonderful paintings by Vincent Van Gogh , Gustav Klimt , Lawrence Alma-Tadema or Joaquín Sorolla that give oleanders a privileged place.
Vase with Oleanders and Book (Vincent Van Gogh)
Girls with Oleander (Gustav Klimt)
The dark side of oleander
Oleander has historically been considered a poisonous plant , especially to animals like dogs, donkeys or horses, but also for humans when consumed in large amounts.
Why especially to animals? Because oleander is extremely bitter and it´s unpalatable for humans, but animal palates are obviously different and chewing oleander leaves can be extremely harmful for them.
In Italy, it is called “Amazza l´asino” (kill the donkey). In many other countries it is named similarly.
Oleander extract is also used as an effective rat poison.
All the parts of the plant are poisonous: stem, leaves, flowers and nectar contain a milky poisonous liquid. It is said that there were cases of people getting poisoned after cooking a meal on a fire with oleander wood or after drinking water from rivers with oleander plants in their banks.
The character and the nature of oleander are reflected in Arab proverbs in the Middle East: “Bitter than oleander”, “Oleander days” (days of distress) .
In Italy and India the oleander is a symbol of mourning.
Anyway, in spite of this very dark side, as always happens with plants, they can have a positive and helpful aspect too. For example, it was used to treat hemorrhoids, or poisonous animal bites, protecting animals´skin from worms and insects, and the Arabs in The Middle East used to put it around grain sacks. In Yemen and Morocco it is used for heart diseases.
But this is a very dangerous plant and for the mentioned positive effects it must be administered in the right doses and in the hands of expert alchemists.
Adelfas Valencianas by Joaquín Sorolla
Oleander, a murder weapon
Angelina Rodriguez, a 54-year-old woman from California, was sentenced to death on Jan. 12, 2004 for poisoning her fourth husband, 41-year-old Jose Francisco Rodriguez, by giving him drinks with oleander and antifreeze. According to court documents. Rodriguez had insisted her husband take out life insurance two months before.
Guess who was the primary beneficiary.
Detectives said Rodriguez used oleander extracted from a neighbor´s shrub to sicken her husband, but this didn’t kill him. Instead, it caused him severe stomach problems so she finished him off putting antifreeze ( a highly poisonous substance often put in cars´radiators) in the Gatorade she was giving him for rehydrating after the stomach problems.
She is now on death row awaiting execution.
I spent quite a lot of time looking for some information about the toxicity of vapors coming from oleander leaves. Not an easy task, because only Angelina and we, eco printers, do this strange thing of boiling or steaming leaves. But I finally found an article that said exactly this:
What happens if you smell Oleander?
Skin irritation is the most common toxic effect. It is also common with exposure to smoke fumes if oleander is burned. Inhaled smoke fumes can cause severe irritation to the airways as well as cause systemic toxicity due to the cardiac glycosides and digitoxigenin within the plant.
Angelina didn´t succeed in killing her husband only with oleander tea, but we can see it can be toxic when ingested or inhaled.
So, though it can print beautifully ( I have seen for years people who innocently tried and posted oleander prints online) , it’s good to know that it can be dangerous and then you can decide by yourself.
Don´t you agree?