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Israel Environment & Nature: Oleander

OLEANDER (Heb. הַרְדּוּף mishnaic (harduf) or הִרְדּוּפְנִי (hirdufeni)), the evergreen shrub with rose-colored flowers that grows wild in Israel on the banks of rivers.

Cultivated varieties having flowers of various colors are also grown. Its leaves are arranged at the nodes of the stalk in groups of three. In this respect it resembles the three-leaved myrtle . The Talmud (Suk. 32b) raises the possibility that by eẓ avot ("plaited tree"), one of the four species taken on the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:40), the oleander may be intended, but the suggestion is rejected on the grounds that the Bible would not have required a plant containing a dangerous poison to be taken (see Rashi , Suk. 32b). A fowl that has eaten oleander "is forbidden because of danger to life" (Ḥul. 3:5). It is, in fact, very poisonous and its ground leaves are sometimes used as mouse poison. One tanna held that it was because of its bitterness that this tree was used by Moses to sweeten the bitter waters (Ex. 15:25) "for God heals with that with which he wounds" (Ex. R. 50:3). The Talmud (Pes. 39a) mentions a bitter plant called hardufenin which is not poisonous and was eaten as a salad. The reference is apparently to the Scorzonera, to which the name hardufenin is given in modern Hebrew.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.