Hawaiian native and prisoner of New York City, Frogma, has posted pix of some of her fellow Hawaiian natives. These natives are not the high school classmates that Frogma went back to visit recently, but natives of the beaches, meadows, and forests of Hawaii. They are the flowers that are indigenous to the islands.
As botany is not one of my strengths, I didn't recognize most of the flowers until I came to one that every Californian knows - the Oleander.
Photo by Phrogma
Talk about an immigrant success story!
Oleanders must be happier, more established, and better known in California than they are anywhere else - even Hawaii. They moved here many years ago, put down roots, and set about populating the state, literally from one end to the other.
They didn't do this on their own, though. They had help.
Their tenacious hardiness soon impressed many Californians, but most notably they impressed Caltrans - the bureaucracy of highway, biway, and bridge builders that is the de facto governing body of California.
Your state may have a highway department, but it is nothing like Caltrans.
Caltrans has an annual budget that surpasses the GDP of most third world countries.
Governators may govern, legislators and judges may serve their terms, lobbyists may lobby, lawyers litigate, and councils counsel, but, they are all mortal. In time, they all fade away, are indicted, or retire to the White House.
But Caltrans is forever.
Eternal. Immutable. Sacred.
In a state whose culture and economy revolve around the car more than anywhere else, Caltrans is the rock (and gravel and concrete) upon which Californians depend.
And if Caltrans embraces you, champions you, advances your star, you too shall become eternal, immutable, and sacred.
And so it has been with the Oleander. India has the cow, California the Oleander.
Caltrans has planted vast, endless colonnades of Oleander that parade for hundreds of miles down the medians of our freeways, the Niles of our commerce.
Oleanders By The Overpass, Alas
Because as it turns out, Oleanders are the perfect vehicle for shepherding vehicles.
They are tough, robust, require almost no water, and grow quicker than rumor. At night, they block the glaring headlights of oncoming traffic. A stand of Oleander can absorb a wayward pickup truck that hurtles into the median at 80 miles an hour, wrestle the truck to the ground, and recover within a year or so with no human intervention. Guardrails and concrete barriers are much more expensive to plant, seldom flower, and are not nearly so adept at healing themselves.
The only thing about Oleanders that puzzles me is the fuss people make about them being poisonous. I mean, it's not as if Oleanders sneak up and bite you. For Oleanders to be poisonous, you have to eat them.
And who goes around eating shrubbery?
People make such a big deal about this. Whenever the conversation drifts to Oleanders (I know, I'm going to the wrong parties), the first thing everyone says is, "But you know, they're poisonous."
Just like your mom used to warn you about poking your eye out.
I think this may actually be one of those urban myths, though. I scoured Google looking for examples of people who had actually died from eating Oleander. Almost every reference comes back to the same anonymous group of 'some kids' who roasted marshmallows at a cookout on Oleander sticks and who all died. Nowhere are those kids or their scout troup or their Kiwanis club identified. I think this is just another case of you'll poke your eye out.
The other alleged example of Oleander poisoning refers to a bunch of off-duty marines who were so drunk they stopped on a freeway median one night to have a cookout and, again, did the marshmallow en brochette thing, using Oleanders for the brochettes. These guys apparently didn't die but got very sick. This story also sounds bogus to me, because if those marines were drunk enough to be cooking out in the middle of a freeway, their morning-after malaise had nothing to do with Oleander. Trust me on this, but don't ask how I know.
I know this is a sailing blog and that Oleanders have nothing to do with sailing. But, don't blame me.
Frogma started it.