Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pink Saturday - Pretty pink poison

Pink Saturday - Beverly at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you!

I'm a little under the weather this week - cramps are roiling my gut, gurgling embarrassingly, with occasional spasms of pain. I don't know whether it's food poisoning, hormonal mischief, or just the large amount of jelly beans and Peeps I ate last weekend.

But I'm staying home with a hot pad on my tummy, lying in bed sipping tea and reading escapist novels.

Oleander is a common shrub here in Southern California, and you see it everywhere. There are white varieties, a pale peachy variety, and bright cherry-red like this shrub in my neighbor's yard.

I first learned about oleanders as a young teen, from a novel by Anya Seton. Back then, I read everything Ms. Seton wrote - thick romances set in Britain and America, with real historic figures interacting with her heroes and heroines.

I'm not sure it was good for me at twelve or thirteen to read these racy tales, with their torid sex scenes; but my teenaged self thrilled to read of the naked white limbs of the adulterous queen glimpsed fleetingly in darkness, the trembling lips of the lusty Puritan maiden, the passionate seduction of Katharine Swynford by the debonair John of Lancaster.

Seton's romances weren't as sexually explicit as modern romance novels, but what they lacked in specifics they made up for in drama, sweep, and sensational intrigue.

One of her early novels was set in the Hudson River valley, and the plot is, to us today, predictable. A young innocent girl leaves home to join the household of a rich family as a companion to their daughter. But all is not well at Dragonwyck. The Patroon despises his greedy and selfish wife, and lusts for Our Heroine. The wife gorges herself on desserts, sprinkling the sweet whipped cream with bay leaf ground in a little spice mill. One night, the unfortunate woman becomes violently ill and dies, freeing the Patroon to marry Our Heroine.

As their marriage founders, Our Heroine begins to suspect her predecessor's death was more than an accident. It is revealed that the Patroon replaced the bay leaves in his wife's spice mill with the deadly leaves of oleander.

Oleander is one of the most toxic plants in cultivation. Almost every part of the shrub is toxic. The bark, the leaves and even the flowers' nectar cause extreme gastrointestinal distress, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and excess salivation. It can also damage the heart and the central nervous system.

Living in northern cities like New York and Seattle, I'd never seen an oleander until we moved to Southern California. Some 25 years after reading "Dragonwyck" with its description of the violent symptoms of oleander poisoning, I was surprised and a bit uneasy to recognize the shrubs in my yard as oleanders.

Oleanders are widely grown here, because they're pretty, drought tolerant, and resistant to brush fires.

Still, it's curious that authorities recommend growing it in high-fire-risk areas. In Florida, on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the state has posted signs among the oleander shrubs growing there, warning fishermen not to use the limbs for campfires to grill fish - so toxic is even the smoke.

In the novel "White Oleander" by Janet Fitch, a woman's conviction for poisoning her lover with oleander lands her daughter in the horrors of the state's foster-child programs. The white oleander appears again and again evoking the unease of Southern California's brush fires, It also appears as a sinister symbol of the mother's sociopathy.

Oleanders growing in Dijon, France

Oleanders grow in many tropical climates, including Sri Lanka and India. There, the Yellow Oleander plant is linked with up to 2000 poisonings a year - mostly deliberate, intended suicide.

As with most chemically complex plants, the oleander's ability to make the human gut purge its contents has beneficial uses, too. It has been used in traditional folk medicine in the Mediterranean region, and recent researchers have used extracts of the plant in anti-cancer drugs.

Still, when I walk the dog on our street we pass dozens of large, lush oleanders, in full bloom for the spring. Their pretty pink and white blossoms are sweetly fragrant, and unless you know what they are, they don't appear the least bit sinister.

Well, now!! Not very cheerful for Pink Saturday, is it? But it got my mind off my gurgling tummy!

What books are your guilty pleasures when you're under the weather?

UPDATE: Well, my tummy-ache has turned into a bigger adventure than I thought. Stay tuned.


Francie...The Scented Cottage Studio said...

I remember the beautiful Oleander in California ... and I hope your tummy is soon better.
Have loved to read since I first learned and for me nothing beats a good mystery. I have several Lord Whimsy's that I turn to over and over again, anything by Robert Parker and the Stephanie Plum and Kinsey Milhone stories almost always delight.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I hope you feel better soon, Aunt Snow.

P.S. Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!*

*On the head of Princess Beatrice, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.

Pat said...

Gosh, I hope you feel better soon. Stomach cramps - yik - the worst feeling in the world!

Cat & Cricket said...

Ahhh.. I had Oleander one summer on my deck, potted.. gorgeous! Have a wonderful weekend.. your newest follower~

Dru said...

I too hope you are feeling better soon! Your English rose is beautiful - I have A Shropshire Lad from David Austin and LOVE it! The photos of all the oleander are beautiful. Nice to meet you Aunt Snow and Happy Pink Saturday to you...

Holly said...

Oleander seems to be a word that you hear in romance novels and perfume - great combination! Enjoyed your post (great writing and pictures). I hope you are feeling better soon but that you also get to finish reading your novels.
Happy Pink Saturday!

Terri Morse said...

I'm so sorry you are under the weather today, Aunt Snow. That's a rotten way to spend a Saturday. I enjoyed your post. I have memories of my sister reading all the novels of Anya Seton. I learned something too! I had no idea how poisonous oleander is. I don't think I'd touch it now with a ten foot cattle prod! Take care of yourself. I hope you feel better soon, and thanks for identifying the snapdragons for me! Terri

Linda M. said...

Happy Pink Saturday and thanks for the information on Oleander. Hope you feel better soon.

Lynn@ The Vintage Nest said...

Oh G....I sure hope it's nothing serious! The worst I have ever felt was with food poisoning. It was horrible. Very interesting post. I knew oleander was bad but had no idea it was THAT bad. Happy Pink Saturday.

kcinnova said...

I promise I did not slip you any Oleander! Your book sounds like a wonderful guilty-pleasure read for when I have the time.

I do hope you feel better soon!

Jillian's Bella Rosa Antiques said...

The oleander is quite pretty! Learned a lot today...

Hope you are feeling better!

Riet said...

I love oleanders. Hope you feel better soon.Happy pink Satuday

Char said...

We also can grow the oleander here in the desert, and it grows quite well with our dry, hot weather. I remember many years ago reading a story about some boys that used the oleander branches to cook some hotdogs over an open fire. Needless to say, the outcome was not a good one. That is when I learned of this deadly plant.
While growing up in Sacto, we happily referred to these pretty plants as "freeway bushes."

I will admit, I love a good, seedy novel. HA
Happy Pink Saturday and I hope you are feeling better soon, Char

Sandi@ Rose Chintz Cottage said...

Hi Aunt Snow,
Hope you're feeling better soon. Not too nice having tummy cramps! The flowers are so pretty, it's hard to believe they are so deadly! Happy Pink Saturday weekend.


Gabriela Delworth said...

Happy Pink Saturday!

Hoping you are feeling better.
The flowers of these trees have a beautiful perfume.

~ Gabriela ~

Anonymous said...

First visit to your site and I like it. I hope you feel better soon and thanks for the lovely pictures, reviews, reminding me of how much I liked Anya Seton. Be well and happy. dea

Valrie said...

My tummy ripped wide open Thursday night , my God I thought I was passing another kidney stone but it turned out to be food poisioning, won't be aeting there again anytime too soon. Oleander is certasinly the posion of poisons for many historical crimes!

Happy PS and feel better!


Cottage Touch said...

Thank you for info HPS!

Maison Mutt said...

Oh you poor thing...seems the peeps are at odds with the jelly beans! I remember all the Oleander in Calif. Now that I have moved out of state...haven't seen it in quite some time. Thanks for the memory. Happy PS!
Licks & Wags, Niki

Home Made Quilts By Granny said...

Very interesting post....I do hope you are doing well. Trish

Beverly said...

Happy Pink Saturday, Glennis. I am concerned about you, and I pray you are improving. Please let us know how you are.

I grew up loving oleander. We had this same color surrounding the pool at our home in Fort Lauderdale.

Guess what! I used to read Anya Seton many years ago, but it has been years since I read anything she wrote. You reminded me how much I enjoyed her books.

dana said...

I'm sorry you've been ill. I had something with very similar symptoms a couple of months ago.....the only plus...I lost five pounds! :) Don't want to do it that way again, however.

IWow...poison carried in smoke, too. That oleander plant carries quite the punch. I sorta knew about it being "poisonous" from previews of the move White Oleander...even though we didn't see it. Guess I should watch it, or get the book!

Thanks for your supportive words about my post on the USA Easter baskets I pulled together. It's such a shame that we have allowed our jobs to be outsourced, just so we can buy the products from China....that used to made in our own country....on top of fearing for our future because of the huge amount of money we've borrowed from them. It's a complicated mess, that's for sure. BUT our little efforts to buy USA is a small, but good step forward.

Hope you had a great weekend. dana

PS When did you start using the name "Aunt Snow" and where did that come from? It's very interesting!!!