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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - August 16, 2011

From: The Woodlands, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Poisonous Plants
Title: Sturdiness of non- native poisonous oleanders
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We've seen a dozen different types of non-native plants in our yard perish in last winter's brutal freezes and this summer's record drought..which is good..except for the Oleanders, which nature can't seem to kill. The Oleanders seem to love our dismal clay soil with no amendments of any kind. They seem to go without a drop of water for weeks. They never wilt, even when the temperature is 104 degrees. In fact, our Oleanders seem to be faring better than many of our native plants. My question is: are these seemingly-indestructible adopted children really bad for our local ecosystem? Is it that they don't provide any food for the wildlife like the Yaupons do? The Oleander's poison doesn't harm our wildlife, does it? What ecological damage does this amazing Texas wannabe do?

ANSWER:

Okay, here's the thing-we agree that some non-natives do seem to thrive no matter what Nature throws at it. However, you ask if oleander is damaging the ecosystem? Maybe not, although we are still committed to natives, if for no other reason than that non-natives can crowd out the natives. But the most important fact about oleanders, at least to us, is not that they will damage the ecosystem, but that they will damage YOU. Please read this excerpt and follow the links to a previous Mr. Smarty Plants question:

"This article from Floridata will give you some information on Nerium oleander. Please be sure to read the Toxic warning at the bottom of the page. All parts of this plant are toxic, and it is not even safe to burn it, as the smoke retains the toxicity. It is native to North Africa. For more information on the toxicity, read this Howstuffworks.com article on The Top 5 Most Poisonous Plants."

So Mr. Smarty Plants will play the Devil's Advocate. You don't have children or pets who might nibble on it, and you wear long gloves when you prune it, and it goes to the landfill. And you're sure not going to take a bite out of it. So, how about next year when you sell your house and garden to an unsuspecting young family with children and pets? Or how about when you have a picnic for a group to show off your lovely garden? How would you feel if the purchaser's family was devastated by the loss of a child to poisoning? Or maybe an adult walking a dog would let the dog wander into your yard. We know no one likes other people's dogs in our garden, but what if the beloved pet of that neighbor is poisoned?

Bottom line: There are states that have laws against planting oleanders. There are no such laws in Texas, so you can plant or keep what you like in your garden. Are you sure that's what you want to do?


 

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