Least Favorite Plant: Yellow Oleander (Thevetia peruviana)


Thumbing through a book of toxic and hallucinogenic plants, I finally manged to i.d. the neighbor’s shrub that looms over the staircase to our front door. The popular name given for this plant in the book was “suicide tree”, so named for its use in Sri Lanka, though I’ve found other plants with this same moniker. The scientific name is Thevetia peruviana, and it’s also known as “lucky nut” (can we change that to unlucky nut please?), Be Still Tree (presumably because you’ll be still if you eat any of it), and yellow oleander (it’s a relative of Southern California’s favorite freeway landscaping flower). I was able to dig up a research study on what the authors described as an “epidemic” of yellow oleander poisoning in Sri Lanka,

“Accidental poisonings occur throughout the tropics, particularly in children. Adults have died after consuming oleander leaves in herbal teas. However, deliberate ingestion of yellow oleander seeds has recently become a popular method of self harm in northern Sri Lanka. There are thousands of cases each year, with a case fatality rate of at least 10%. Around 40% require specialised management and are transferred from secondary hospitals across the north to the Institute of Cardiology in Colombo”

Native to central and south America Thevetia peruviana made its way to Sri Lanka only recently, with the suicides starting up within the last 25 years, according to an article in Bio-Medicine. Apparently news accounts of suicides have fueled its use. The Bio-Medicine article describes a typical incident, “I remember one girl said her mother wanted her to get up and do the shopping. She said no, her mother scolded her and she took a yellow oleander seed.”

A semi-popular landscaping plant, it grows without any water or care here in Los Angeles, though a hard frost would kill it. The elderly neighbor who used to live next door told me that she brought it with her from Mexico. I’ve seen it growing in vacant lots and by the freeway, so it seems to be able to spread on its own. So why put it on the least favorite plant list? It’s neither beautiful nor useful (unless you want to kill someone or hate shopping) nor does it seem to provide habitat or forage for beneficial wildlife. Why plant something that can accidentally poison a toddler?

Thank You Chicago!

Some unfinished Chicago business:

Thanks again to Nancy Klehm for hosting me. If you aren’t familiar with Klehm’s work you can read her articles at Arthur Magazine (note especially her take on the swine flu), view some video of a foraging walk she conducted, or take one of her classes.

Also, thanks to Chicago Reader reporter Martha Bayne for writing a nice article about me. Bayne’s also the force behind Soup and Bread, a pot luck which takes place during the winter at a tavern. Folks bring soup and everybody chips in a donation that benefits a Chicago food bank. It’s a Depression 2.0 idea that needs to be cloned in other cities.

And, of course, thanks to the Green Roof Growers, who prove that you can grow food without a yard.

Altadena Heritage of Abundance

Our backyard last week (some ugly stuff framed out of the picture!)

We’ll be doing a talk tomorrow morning as part of a sustainability series in Altadena, CA. We’re going to talk about self irrigating planters, chickens, bees and vegetable gardening. Here’s the 411:

Saturday, May 30 from 9 to 11 a.m at the Altadena Community Center First in a series of events, workshops, and home tours on sustainable living. Reserve your place at this free series kickoff event for members ($5 non-members). More info here.

To RSVP, please leave your name, email or phone contact, number of reservations, and event name at [email protected].

Chicago’s Urban Bees


Founded in 2004, the Chicago Honey Co-op tends over a hundred hives on a former Sears and Roebucks site. The Co-op provides job training to under-employed folks and sells a variety of products. I didn’t get a chance to visit it on my trip to Chicago, but hope to the next time I’m there.

In other Chicago bee news, the Green Roof Growers just got a hive. Urban rooftops and abandoned industrial sites make a lot of sense for beekeeping, as many agricultural areas are contaminated with pesticides. Keeping bees in cities might be an important strategy towards bringing back healthy hives. So best of luck to the GRGers and their new hive! And make sure to sign up for their May 30th self irrigating planter workshop.

Washing Machine Greywater Resources

Pantyhose filter

For those of you attending our Wednesday night greywater workshop at Good and for those of you who can’t, here’s a list of resources for using your washing machine as a irrigation source:

The New Create an Oasis with Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systemsby Art Ludwig. This is the bible of greywater. Follow Ludwig’s instructions and you can’t go wrong. Buy a copy via the link, and you’ll help support Homegrown Evolution.

Ludwig’s open source Laundry to Landscape system.

1″ polyethylene tubing–an alternative to PVC pipe.

Oasis Biocompatible detergent, the only laundry detergent we can find that’s appropriate for greywater use. It works great and, again, click through the link and we get a little support.

A selection of three way diverter valves. Note the 1″ brass model for laundry systems. Use these diverters to shift between sending your greywater outside or back to the sewer. Great if you have to do a load of diapers. We don’t have one, but we’re both cheap and kinda extreme.

A local Los Angeles source for drums, the Apex Drum Company: www.apexdrum.com. Phone number: (323) 721-8994. Located at 6226 Ferguson Drive in the picturesque city of Commerce. You can also scavange drums, but make sure they didn’t have nasty chemicals in them. See our greywater surge tank post for what kind of barrel we like to use. Note that you can also turn a surge tank into a rain barrel.

A description of our greywater fruit mini-orchard.

Our greywater surge tank version 1.0. We’ve since added a pantyhose filter as seen above to catch lint that can clog the tank and garden hose. It’s just some threaded ABS waste pipe fittings screwed together with used pantyhose.

A liquid fertilizer of the type that you could add to your greywater surge tank during a wash cycle to fertilize your garden. You could also get a fish emulsion or sea kelp based liquid fertilizer from your local nursery.

Oaktown’s Greywater Guerrillas, another source for inspiration.

Greywater Workshop at Good Magazine

We’ll be doing a greywater workshop at Good Magazine this Wednesday May 27th from 7 to 9 p.m. Directions and RSVP info are here.

We’re going to focus on what I consider to be the easiest way to reuse your greywater: hacking your washing machine. We’ll take a look at a couple of approaches including our surge tank, pictured above, which we just got around to elevating with scrap lumber to get a gravity assist. We’ll also look at Art Ludwig’s direct “laundry to landscape” system.

Topics will also include:

  • Greywater compatible detergents
  • Choosing the best plants for greywater
  • Creating mulch basins
  • Greywater dos and don’ts
  • Plumbing parts
  • Water conservation and efficiency
  • Greywater cocktails (just kidding)

Hope to see you all tomorrow!

City Farm Chicago

Chicago’s City Farm is a stunning bit of green smack in the middle of the concrete jungle, sandwiched between the remnants of the controversial Cabrini-Green housing project and the Gold Coast. A program of the non-profit Resource Center, City Farm sells produce to chefs, operates a vegetable stand and provides opportunities for economically under-developed neighborhoods.

City Farm is a mobile endeavor. The basic idea is to take advantage of some vacant land and, when the inevitable development comes, pull up everything and move on. Assuming that urban land is contaminated, the City Farm folks simply piled up about three feet of compost, soil and mulch right on top of the broken concrete and asphalt of its current location. All that soil will move when the yuppie condos replace the salad greens and radishes. City Farm is an idea that makes sense in big U.S. cities which, despite astronomical real estate prices, have large amounts of unused space.

The growing season is just starting up at City Farm and I’ll have more photos when I get back to Los Angeles (forgot a camera cable thingy). Many thanks to Nancy Klehm for hosting me here, filmmaker Deborah Stratman for loaning me a bicycle and to Lora Hall for the fantastic guest blogs.

On the Southwest Chief to Chicago


I’m heading to Chicago aboard Amtrak’s Southwest Chief this evening for a series of workshops. Hope to see some of you in Chicago.

When I get back to Los Angeles, Mrs. Homegrown and I will be leading a greywater workshop at Good Magazine on the 27th of May. Details to follow.

In Altadena on May 30th I’ll be doing a talk, “Living Simply, Living Abundantly” at the Altadena Community Center 730 East Altadena Drive from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

And, god help us, we’re twittering (so much for living simply). Follow our twitter feed along the right side of the blog–just above the ad for our favorite greywater detergent. And folks, please buy some detergent so that we can get a sleeper car next time!