In antiquity, poisons were valued for their utilitarian value in hunting fishing and even for preserving life. Just as many of our modern drugs will kill from an overdose, plants the we recognize as poisons were probably used, in greatly diluted form, to treat various diseases. What is amazing to me and many other people is that some of these deadly plants are extremely beautiful. They have achieved widespread global distribution based on their beauty with very few recognizing their deadly nature.
Desert Rose makes the ASPCA Toxic Plant List of household plants that are dangerous to animals. Even though it is beautiful and popular, it is hard to establish it’s global distribution but is probably on five or six continents. Desert Rose is a popular houseplant and bonsai in America and other temperate regions and is originally from Africa. It is not on Eggers inventory of the plants of St. Croix prepared around 1900 under the Danish , so it was probably brought to St. Croix during the American Era as a decorative plant. The toxic sap of its roots and stems is used as arrow poison for hunting large game throughout much of Africa and as a fish poison for harvesting fish.
Oleander is also on the ASPCA Toxic Plant List and is extremely poisonous to the degree that eating honey from the flowers or being exposed to the burning brush can cause a toxic reaction. It is so deadly and available that oleander was used as the cause of death in an NCIS TV script. Even though oleander is poisonous, heavily diluted oleander preparations have been promoted to treat a variety of conditions including muscle cramps, asthma, menstrual pain, epilepsy, paralysis, and cancer. It is carried on the American Cancer Society web site as an item of research interest although it appears to be not very effective and yet deadly. It has also been used in folk remedies as an insecticide and to kill rats and while it is toxic to horses, dogs, adults and children, it has not been effective in killing rats or birds in the laboratory. Because of it’s beauty it is extremely widespread on all of the six inhabited continents and because it is so widespread, no precise region of origin has been identified for it. A city in Morocco is named after it and both the Greeks and Romans knew the plant. Oleander is the official flower of the city of Hiroshima, having been the first flower to bloom following the atomic bombing of the city in 1945.