Oleander Tattoos: Symbolism, Meanings & More

Oleander Tattoos: Symbolism, Meanings & More

Are you conflicted by the negative and positive associations that oleander tattoos can have? Or are you simply looking for more information about the plant to see if it’s the right choice for you?

Oleanders have ancient, global ties which gives the plant an interesting background. Although the most well-known meaning of oleanders is a message of warning or caution, the oleander tattoo can mean very different things depending on the colour of the blossom.

This article will explore more detail on the history of the flower, as well as the symbolism it is associated with. Then, we will finish off with some great tattoo ideas representing the flower’s origin and meanings.

What is the History of Oleander Tattoos?

The specific history of the oleander tattoo is rather unknown, so it’s likely that there is no real connection. Nonetheless, the flower itself has many past stories to tell which could inspire people into a tattoo.


– Ancient Greece

The scientific name derives from the Greek works ‘neros’, meaning growth in wet habitats, and ‘olea’, meaning olive. However, there is also a mythical Greek story of how the flower got its name.

The story is about how a man named Leander fell deeply in love with a beautiful Greek maiden. Unfortunately, they lived on different sides of the Strait of Gallipoli, a waterway more commonly known as Dardanelles.

But he was driven with passion, and every night he’d swim across the waterway to see her. Tragedy struck, as one night he drowned after being caught in a tempest. His lifeless body washed up on shore, and the maiden screamed out at the sight ‘Oh, Leander! Oh, Leander!’ 

He was found clutching particular flowers in his hand, which the maiden planted to symbolise their undying love. This flower was termed Oleander.


– Art and Literature

Through the ages, the oleander also makes for a prominent figure in art. For example, in the preserved city of Pompeii, there are mural paintings on the walls which feature the flower. Aside from this, many other great artists have featured the flower in their work, including;


  • Bazille’s ‘Terrace at Meric – Oleanders’
  • Vincent Van Gogh’s – ‘Oleanders’
  • Klimts ‘Two Girls with an Oleander’

The flower also has notable mentions in novels and lyrics, including;

  • Janet Fitch’s ‘White Oleander’
  • Steely Dan’s ‘My Old School’
  • Willa Cather’s ‘The Song of the Lark’

– Health

Most notably, the plant is used to a prescription drug called oleandrin, prescribed to patients who can’t take digitalis for cardiac-related problems. Although, there are also uses of the plant in traditional medicine, using it as a diuretic to treat snakebites, leprosy, headaches, ulcers, and even cancer.

The bark and leaves are also claimed to treat certain skin diseases when made into a decoction. Furthermore, through boiling the leaves, the plant is said to treat malaria, reduce body swelling, and induction abortion.

However, all parts of the plant are extremely toxic to both humans and animals. Even just touching it, or breathing in the fumes could cause serious health issues. It is actually said that Alexander the Great died after eating meat that has been cooked on oleander wood skewers. Many ancient societies used the plant to make poison.


– Biblical and Geographical

In Italy, there is hearsay that bringing or bestowing the oleander inside of one’s home is an omen for misfortune and disgrace. It also means that someone is casting an illness upon another.

However, in Spain, the oleander holds a more spiritual idea. Upon the announcement of an angel at St Joseph that he will be the husband to the Virgin Mary Mother, the flowers are said to have fantastically appeared onto his staff.

Plus, during a time of great sickness, a desperate mother prayed to St Joseph for the recovery of her ill daughter. After the mother’s prayer, a branch of oleanders was seen on top of the girl, and she was miraculously cured.

In India, oleanders are placed around the body of the dead for Hindu people to mourn their loss.


What Do Oleander Flowers Symbolise?

In the Victorian language of flowers, the oleander symbolises the complicated nature of love and relationships. The blossom has links to both positive and negative representations, but the connection to intense love has dated back for generations.

The flower also symbolises; desire, romance, charm, destiny, and never-ending love.

What Do Oleander Tattoos Mean?

Due to the toxicity of the flower, the most distinct meaning of an oleander tattoo is a message warning a person to be wary and cautious. Some people even believe that the flower is a sign of distrust between someone close to you, or a sign that imminent danger is lurking nearby.

With this being said, the oleander tattoo changes its meaning depending on the colour of the blossom. So luckily, it’s not all gloom and doom. The meanings by colour are listed below;


White Oleander – Signifies trust and peace during times of disharmony. Whether this sense of disharmony is within yourself or someone you care for, the white oleander offers a declaring peace.

Purple Oleander – Signifies strength and bravery. It can also stand for inspiration and devotion.

Red Oleander – Signifies love and passion, or death and mourning. Both of these meanings have been taken from the deep shade and sweet fragrance of the red oleander.

Pink Oleander – Signifies femininity, grace, and beauty. In a spiritual sense, it’s a symbol of cleansing and healing. On another note, the pink oleander also denotes a woman’s chastity.

Where Do Oleander Tattoos Usually Go?

Oleander tattoos could really go on any part of the body, however, they are most common on arms, shoulders, and hips. The flower is also much more popular amongst women than it is for men.

Since oleander features several colours, you could even differ the placement depending on the colour meaning. For example, for strength, you could tattoo it on your bicep.


– Characteristics and Styles of Oleander Tattoos

The traditional version of the tattoo is typically just an oleander branch, however, there are several options for more abstract ideas, such as;

  • An oleander plant with teeth to represent the toxin.
  • Oleander blossoms at the foot of a cross.
  • Next to the name, lifespan date, or memoir of a loved one you have lost.
  • Nested with a dove for its association with peace.


Throughout art, mythology, and medicine the oleander has a colourful history. Although it’s not the most popular tattoo choice, perhaps due to its negative associations, there are many positive meanings to the plant as well. Since the blossoms have such a wide array of tones, you can design a unique tattoo that stands out.


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