Tucson’s Tale of Oleander and Boy Scouts

July 2nd, 2015 · No Comments

by Jane St. Clair

I was only in Tucson a few months when I heard the horrible story of the oleander and Boy Scouts. Now this story is not for anyone who gets scared easily!horror_movie_tab_lg_clr So if that means you, you better stop reading right this minute!

The story goes like this:

About twenty years ago, a troop of Tucson Boy Scouts was camping on Mount Lemmon.Oleander and Boy Scouts It was summer, and the Scouts like everyone else in Tucson had climbed up the mountain to escape the heat.

Night was beginning to fall. The Scouts pitched their tents and built a campfire. They broke off sticks from oleander and Boy Scouts made them into skewers to roast hot dogs.


Oleander and Boy Scouts These Plants

Some died from eating the wieners, and others died from just inhaling the smoke of burning oleander.


Star-Shaped Oleander Jane St. Clair

If you touch it, YOU DIE. But these city slicker Boy Scouts were from New York or some such place and did not know any better.



The only problem is oleander grows all over the parts of Arizona where people live. The plant grows tall –up to 20 feet– and it’s big and green and full of flowers. It’s not picky about heat and water in a land of lots of heat and no water, and in a land with no big green plants full of flowers.

Oleander Mountains Jane St Clair


This week I tried to find the oleander and Boy Scouts story in old newspapers. I couldn’t find it. That bothered me because by now I’d heard this story many times. Storytellers always tell it with great drama and a catch in their voices.

The thing is the story of the oleander and Boy Scouts is not true. It’s urban legend, Blurry Oleander Jane St. Claireven though people tell it not only in Arizona, but also in California, Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Asia, the Mediterranean and anywhere that oleander grows.

The story probably dates back to a troop of French soldiers wandering around Spain during the Peninsula War of 1809. They were stealing food and camping near Madrid when they used oleander sticks to roast raw meat. The next morning 12 were dead, and 5 were deathly sick.

The oleander and Boy Scout story has staying power because its warning serves a purpose. Oleander is poison. It only takes an ounce of its leaves to kill a horse, and even less to kill a child.
I did find a 2007 article from a newspaper in Yorba Linda, California. The city fathers were deciding whether to ban oleander because of its threat to horses. I got a kick out of a comment someone posted at the end:

“Do you remember the horrible incident in California years ago (actually, about 20 years ago) where a group of Boy Scouts used oleander twigs to grill hotdogs and marshmallows over a campfire? Several of the boys and one of the Scoutmasters died as a result. I would never plant oleander. It’s a beautiful plant, but it is really, really toxic.”

Little Hot Dog1Little Hot Dog1Little Hot Dog1Little Hot Dog1Little Hot Dog1Little Hot Dog1Little Hot Dog1Little Hot Dog1Little Hot Dog1Little Hot Dog1Little Hot Dog1Little Hot Dog1

For more information on oleander and Boy Scouts, try snopes.com
July 2015: Read Jane’s funny flash fiction “Husky” The Reject Pile

Tags: Arizona · Jane St. Clair · Tucson · Uncategorized