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Rosebay (Nerium oleander)

Diputación de Málaga

Rosebay (Nerium oleander)

Flowers Fruits
Plant Life > Trees, Bushes and Herbaceous Plants


The rosebay is a bush which can grow to the size of a small tree (up to 5 m high), with small branches and a smooth, grey bark. The leaves are set in three whorls (one burl gives birth to three leaves), creating rosettes where we can see four leaves. They are long, the petiole is dipped in the base of the leaf, the fringe is intact (with a smooth edge) and the tip is incisive. The leaf has a tough texture, without hairs; we notice the strong green colour from the beam and lighter one on the underside, with a yellowish or whitish central nerve which is very prominent. The flowers (sometimes double ones) create some terminal inflorescences, groups of many very odorous flowers. They are types with colours of rose, salmon colour, purple, white or cream. The fruits (8 or 16 cm long) are follicles (extended pods which open only on one side) dry, cylindrical and covered by plenty of brown furs. It contains many rounded seeds inside.


It flourishes very abundantly in well lit places, although it can live in the shade as well as under the sunlight. It resists very well to the dryness of summer, so it is frequently found it in ravines, and in the lower river valleys where it almost never rains during the  year. They are very rustic plants, usually used in pots, even as inside plants in colder climates, taking it outside during the warmest months. Although it does not need much water, it also appears on the river edges where it flourishes. It is not very demanding regarding the type of ground, it develops itself in calcareous as well as in saline grounds. It resists light freezes. It can grow from sea level to 1,200 m high.


It is a hermaphrodite flower variety (monoic species with both sexes in the same specimen). The flowering period is rich and extends nearly all year long (from April to October), just as fruiting (from the end of spring to autumn). The pollination stage is aided by insects (entomophil). It offers a large production of flowers and fruits. The fruit can be opened by the lateral slits and it lets many hairy seeds free, with some feathery fur, which helps it stay in the air, dispersing itself with the wind (anemochore).


It is a very common plant in the province, although it is dispersed all over the provincial territory. The best populations can be found on the edges of the higher parts of the Guadalhorce river or in the mouths and medium parts of several rivers and streams in this province. In the Gran Senda (the Large Path), we can observe it at many stages, especially at the number 1, 2, 19 to 21 and 30.  


The rosebay is a toxic plant which can cause death to humans and animals who eat it. It secretes a white, milky and very stinging substance, which can be seen on its flowers and on its stems. Its poison has been traditionally exaggerated that people say that sleeping in its shadow could bring negative effects,  for example, losing ones hair. During the Spanish Independence War (1808), a group of Napoleon's soldiers suffered the consequences of the bad use of the rosebay. They used rosebay stakes that they found near to where they were camping to roast meat. Eight soldiers died and four others get very seriously intoxicated.


It can be mistaken with oleaceae plants (olive trees, wild olive trees, ash trees) especially with young oleanders because of the shape of its leaves. The rosebay has got a tougher leaf with the central nerve that is very prominent. The groups of pink flowers and its typical smell are key items which help to differentiate it.

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