From artist inspiration to deadly flowers

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rhona femalefocusonline july24By Rhona Wells 
Walking or driving around the Costa Blanca, you can not fail to enjoy the profusion of scented Oleander bushes that are at their best at this time of year.

Nerium oleander, more commonly known as oleander or rosebay, is native to a broad area that spans Morocco and Portugal before spreading eastward through the Mediterranean region. It flourishes around dry stream beds and grows to a height of between two and six metres usually. The flowers grow in clusters and are typically white, pink or, sometimes, yellow.
The oleander does not have its own specific mythology but its origins can be traced back to ancient Greece. It was described by Plyny the Elder, the Roman author and naturalist (AD23- 79), who refers to its roselike flowers as well as its poisonous properties, in his writings. It is believed the oleander may also be the Rose of Jericho, described in the Bible.
This hardy plant was the first to bloom after the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, symbolising hope.
Although it is not commonly known, the oleander is very poisonous and should never be ingested. Every part of the plant contains toxic compounds. Fortunately, the bitterness of all parts of the plant is an effective deterrent to humans and most animals. The beautiful oleander blossoms must look tempting to bees, but they fool their would be pollinators with empty promises of nectar; their blooms contain none.
In 1808, during the Spanish war of independence, it is reported that a number of Napoleon’s soldiers decided to roast their lamb dinner on oleander skewers. The toxicity of the branches was so intense that several of them subsequently died, according to historic record.
Oleander stems, presumably following special treatments, are sometimes used in elaborate basket weaving, a prevalent art form in the Costa Blanca. Interestingly, the ash from burned oleander wood is used by the gun powder industry. The powdered stems and leaves can also be used as rat poison and to prevent disease in certain crops, including beans and chick peas.
However, it is not all gloom and despondency on the oleander front. Traditionally, the leaves were made into a compound to combat hair loss and dandruff. In the Costa Blanca area it was once frequently used as a component in tonics for the cardio vascular system.
In certain areas of Almeria, Valencia and Murcia oleander leaves are still favoured by the older generation as mouthwash; a cure for toothache or as an aid for insomnia. In the Valencia community, its finely ground leaves are used as a remedy to control excessive sneezing.
The beautiful blooms of the oleander have inspired numerous artists throughout the years. In the opinion of Van Gogh, who famously painted oleanders in a majolica jug in Arles 1988, they were ‘joyous, life affirming flowers’.
So, much like a leopard, a sleek sports car or even a good malt whisky, although beguiling and even bewitching, beware of its dangerous side.