Toxic tree lines our streets
LINING the streets of Bundaberg’s CBD, the oleander tree sprouts a range of flowers in the summer and remains a tough and versatile choice for Australia’s gardens.
But this pretty plant packs a punch – its toxicity is such that digestion could make a small child or pet severely ill.
Ken Duffin was shocked to see the white flower, the floral emblem of the former Bundaberg City Council, feature in planter boxes up and down Woondooma Street when he returned to Bundaberg last month after 15 years away.
The oleander is also planted in Bourbong Street, Quay Street and Takalvan Street within reach of any passer-by.
“What about kids who walk past these plants every day? They could very easily pull off a flower and put it in their mouths. How are they, or their parents, to know it’s poisonous?” Mr Duffin, a former tree lopper, said.
“My partner and I just want people to be aware that this pretty flower can actually cause quite a lot of harm.”
Bundaberg regional councillor Mary Wilkinson said the oleander was originally chosen for the streetscape displays because it was the floral emblem of the former Bundaberg City Council.
The regional council is yet to adopt a new floral emblem, but Cr Wilkinson said a local flowering native would be appropriate, and toxicity may be assessed.
In response to Mr Duffin’s concerns, she said she was confident most parents would guide their children not to put plants in their mouth.
Despite acknowledging the oleander sap was poisonous, the councillor said no policy had been made to remove any existing toxic plants.
“There are hundreds of other plants that are toxic – including natives in natural areas,” she said.
“But generally, with our trend toward low-maintenance, drought-tolerant native gardens, our parks section would rarely use oleander in new gardens.”
She said she was not aware of any local incidents in public areas.
“In the streetscape environment, such as the centre island gardens, there is less likelihood that a person will consume the plant, compared to a private backyard play area,” she said.
But as Mr Duffin spoke with the NewsMail yesterday, a constant flow of people walked past the dangerous tree within contact of the poisonous sap and flower.
“There needs to be a warning sign up. It’s just a matter of time until someone gets sick from it,” he said.