Rose Allamanda


(aka Climbing Oleander)
Strophanthus gratus

Slip into your pith helmet and drift away from Florida and I-95 to the 19th Century Congo, where Sir Henry Stanley found Dr. David Livingstone, and Dr. Livingstone found the source of the Nile. Along the way Dr. Livingstone found something else, and useful to this day, thanks in part to another explorer, Livingstone’s botanist companion John Kirk. Dr. Livingstone, I presume and Captain Kirk were impressed in 1861 with arrow poisons called kombί. The poison could drop a hippopotamus…if you really need to do so. That might get an African explorer’s attention! When Kirk asked the local hunters where they find their potion they held out, until Kirk eventually surmised the deadly plant’s identity, climbed a tree, and retrieved the pods. At that point the hunters warned him he’s playing with dynamite.

Weird little accidents happen. The botanist somehow contaminated his toothbrush with kombί juice, leading to a minor cardiac event during dental hygiene. That was a good bad occurrence.

Realizing that something with a kick to the ticker might interest the doctors, he sent kombί back to a pharmacologist in Scotland where it yielded the heart medicine strophanthin valued to this day for congestive heart failure, sometimes administered jointly with another botanical heart drug digitalis. We can’t all go on safari, but for a little staycation we have here in Palm Beach County Rose Allamanda, Strophanthus gratus, the species cultivated now to produce the drug. Gardeners know it better for its big rosy-looking and rosy-smelling flowers in late winter or spring. The plants become large and woody with some “shrub” in their DNA; they like a trellis.

Let’s hope you won’t use Strophanthus to put warheads on arrows, no matter how much you dislike the neighbor’s cat, and by now you perceive an implicit warning as to how fatally toxic this garden flower is. But if it can be grown where there is zero chance of nibbling, the vine puts on quite a show in sun on well drained but moistened fertile soil with organic enrichment.

Rose Allamanda is occasional in local gardens, not seen every day, but it is around and available sporadically from Palm Beach County plant nurseries. Don’t forget that “deadly poison” part.


Did you like this? Share it:
George Rogers

About George Rogers

George Rogers is the Chair of the Horticulture Program at Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens.