Oleander Flower Meaning, Spiritual Symbolism, Color Meaning & More

The oleander flower nurtures a hidden treasure trove of meanings and symbolism throughout the world. Not just a flower of intrinsic beauty and elegance, this flower represents a far deeper significance than most.

If you are drawn to this flower in particular, or have received it as a gift, read on. 

This useful guide gives you all the information about the oleander flower. Discover the flower’s meanings, symbolism, and cultural significance. We explain the spiritual and emotional symbolism of this beautiful flower.

Scroll down further to learn the toxicity of the oleander, its uses, and benefits. Don’t forget to check out our conclusion on the oleander flower, what your oleander gift actually means.

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Oleander Flower Facts

Before we delve into the symbolic value the oleander flower represents, let’s take a quick look at some must-know oleander facts

Where did the oleander get its name?

The oleander flower’s full botanical name is nerium oleander. People mainly refer to it as either nerium or oleander. However, it also goes by the name rose laurel and desert rose. 

Etymological Meaning Of The Oleander

The word ‘nerium’ transpires from the Greek word ‘nerion’, which means ‘wet’. It has this association as it prefers to grow in wet environments, such as ponds or streams. 

The olea europaea is the botanical name for the olive tree. This is where the word ‘oleander’ comes from, and is due to its similarity (in foliage appearance) to the olive tree. In Greek, ‘olea’ means ‘olive’.

Where Is The Oleander Plant Native To?

This highly lethal plant belongs to the apocynaceae family, and it grows practically everywhere, that the warmer climates will allow. However, the oleander is native to South Asia, Africa, and the Mediterranean. 

When Was The Earliest Official Record Of The Oleander’s Existence?

The earliest record of the oleander appears to be around 3,400 BC. There are records of it growing beside the Nile River.

Oleander: Description

This perennial can be a plant or small tree that feature many dark green slim leaves, with very pointed ends. The oleander flower blooms in both spring and summer. Its flowers can be white, red, yellow, purple, orange, or pink, in color. These flowers give off a formidable fruity odor.

However, there are many varieties of the beautiful oleander plant. Here are some of the most popular ones found and their respective color.

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Varieties Of The Oleander Plant

Algiers: Dark red flowers

Hawaii: Large pink flowers that have a yellow neck

Isle of Capri: Light yellow colored flowers

Mont Blanc: Big, white flowers that evoke a stronger scent

Sister Agnes: These are taller, and produce white flowers.

Oleander Flower: Meaning

Overall, the main symbolic meaning of this flower is to represent the complexities of love. The oleander’s meaning associates with attraction, romance, and fate. They are the main flower to show a person’s endless love for another.

In the Victorian era, if a person needed to warn someone they were in danger, they would present them with an oleander flower or plant, stating it was a gift.

Despite this cautionary symbolism, Victorians would also gift lovers this flower, as an acknowledgment of their deep and complex relationship.

The symbolic meanings of the nerium oleander include:

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Color Symbolism Of The Oleander

As we have discussed, the rose laurel comes in many colors. The symbolism of the flower varies, depending on the color. Let’s take a look at some common interpretations.

  • White oleander flowers: Exercise care around others. This color of rose laurel lets you know those you think you can trust may not be as genuine as you think. Alternatively, be on your guard as a potential threat or risk may be imminent.
  • Red rose bay flowers: The meaning behind the red oleander can be confusing to say the least. On the one hand, it is gifted to show deep feelings of attraction, passion, and love for another. On the other hand, this color of blossom can signify a death and grief. If you have received them as a gift from a first date found randomly on social, you might want to dig a little deeper!
  • Pink oleander flowers: You can’t really go wrong with this color. While this color of oleander represents several things, you will be pleased to know they are all good interpretations. The pretty pink flowers symbolize elegance and exquisite beauty (so a great gift for your loved one, or if you are in the doghouse). They also have spiritual value, symbolizing cleansing and healing powers.
  • Purple Rose bay: These should be offered as a gift to someone who is in need of inner strength. They offer a great show of support for someone who is struggling through a tough situation and would appreciate a symbol of bravery and resilience.

Religious Symbolism Of The Oleander

The oleander was extremely significant in Christianity. The Bible frequently references this flowering plant. People believe that due to its nickname, ‘the rose,’ it was actually the rose of Jericho, mentioned in Bible literature.

In Spain, some people believed the oleander represented a important spiritual links. A story that was regularly told, was that as Joseph stood with his staff, an angel came to bring him a message.

The message was that he would soon be married to the Virgin Mary. As he received the news, beautiful oleander flowers suddenly appeared, decorating his staff.

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Oleander Mythology

A well-known Greek legend tells of the reason behind this plant’s name:

A man named Leander fell in love with Lady Love. To see her each night, he had to swim across the Hellespont. This is a narrow part of sea linking the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. Alas, one fateful night the waters were too rough.

The man drowned. As his love walked along the shoreline, she called out his name in desperation. She shouted, ‘Oh, Leander’.

When she came across his washed up body, she discovered he was still holding on to a stunning white flower. His lover planted the flower and watched it grow. From then on the flower had the name, ‘oleander,’ as it was symbolic of their undying love.

Another myth includes a story about the oleander branch curing a child. The tale refers to a worried mother whose child was incredibly ill. The mother prayed to St. Joseph for divine assistance.

When she opened her eyes, the mother could see an oleander branch placed over her child. Following this appearance, and against all odds, her daughter made a full recovery.

Cultural Symbolism And Significance Of The Nerium Oleander

The nerium oleander portrayed darker symbolism to the Italians. People widely regarded this plant to have evil associations, capable of bringing curses.

Some thought that if a person brought this flower into your home as a gift, it was actually symbolic of intended harm and bad feelings. 

The meaning may be to represent feelings of disgust or shame. It may be brought with the intention of wishing harm on a person. Best to just use your grabber and sling it in the trash (just to be on the safe side).

Tattoo Symbolism

Look around, and you will find people adorning this beautiful flower in their tattoo art designs. An oleander tattoo design symbolizes having great confidence and inner strength. Some people have this tattoo as a symbol of caution, too.

Uses Of The Nerium Oleander

The nerium is a plant widely used for many reasons. Aside from being used for decorative persons in gardens, they are also used to improve the look of sidewalks and highways. In some parts of North America, the rose laurel often features as a potted houseplant.

Are Oleanders Given As Gifts?

Although some people choose the oleander as a flower or plant gift, in general it is not advised. Due to the plant’s toxicity, if you decide to give someone a rose laurel, you need to make sure they are aware of just how toxic these plants are.

What Are The Modern Interpretations Of The Oleander As A Gift?

Even though it is not recommended as an ideal gift, some people love its appearance and uphold it as a gift of great symbolic value. If you are given the oleander blossom or plant as a gift, it can be a symbol of great love and attraction.

Or the takeaway might be to suggest you have a very complicated relationship. A few people may still gift the plant as a symbol of caution.

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Medical Uses Of The Oleander

Despite it being extremely toxic, many still used it medicinally to treat a variety of complaints. Thousands of years ago, the oleander was a popular choice to treat skin conditions.

This ingredient can be found in several herbal medicines, and is used to alleviate hemorrhoids, eye disease, epilepsy, skin issues, and even some cancers.

In Arabic tradition, people used the oleander to treat all cancers.

In ancient Roman times, people thought this plant was a great cure for a hangover!

Mesopotamians highly regarded this flowering shrub for having impressive healing abilities. As such, it was the go-to for many complaints. However, these peoples grew more cautious over time, and they banished it from some rooms within the home.

Other traditional uses for the oleander include giving oleandrin to alleviate heart conditions. This is bizarre, given its lethal effect on the cardiovascular system. Furthermore, traditional medicine saw it used as an effective aid in treating a variety of skin disorders, such as eczema. This was done by taking the oils found in the leaves and mixing them with other ingredients before topical application.

More alarmingly, some people claim that by boiling this plant in water, it can effectively lessen the severity of malaria-induced inflammation within the body.

A sick person would need to actually drink the concoction! Worse still, others claim its effectiveness as an alternative form of an at-home abortion. That alone shows just how toxic this plant can be.

We advise against considering the use of this plant in any form. Always talk to your healthcare provider before embarking upon any such measures.

Is The Oleander Poisonous?

Quick answer – yes. Seriously, you don’t want to mess with this plant. Known as one of the most lethal, toxic plants in the entire world, you don’t want to forget your gloves when dealing with the flower.

And it doesn’t matter which part of the plant you consume, every last bit of it is potentially deadly. Even breathing in smoke from a lit oleander can be fatal.

This plant can cause serious stomach problems, blurry vision, dizziness, chronic headaches, seizures,  and death. The same fate awaits all animals that make the mistake of thinking it is edible. 

In Sri Lanka, people use this flowering shrub as a means to commit suicide. The two components oleandrin and nerline are responsible for the plant’s high toxicity levels.

The red flowered variety is the most deadly. Just one leaf can kill a person. 


The nerium oleander is not just an incredibly beautiful plant, but as we can see, it holds much hidden meaning and symbolism for many.

Myths and symbolism associated with the oleander date back centuries. However, the belief in their representation was so strong, that much of the symbolism still lives on today. 

There is no doubt of the oleander blossom’s exquisite beauty and intrigue, and seeing this plant while driving along the road, or from a safe distance, makes a truly wondrous vision to behold. However, never forget the lethal side to this plant.

Every single part of it combines a high level of toxicity. If you decide to gift the plant or wish to incorporate it into your garden landscape, be sure to exercise extreme care and caution.

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