Adenium obesum (2010)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (May 2010)

In this heat, the water hole seems smaller. It grows ever more stagnant, muddy and warm. The small flies wait, knowing the prey will come. While the sun broils overhead, all is quiet.

A leopard crouches low, but not in fear, near a grotesquely shaped caudex of an Adenium obesum. The plant’s petite, pinkish blossoms seem incongruous in this macabre setting.

The impalas, as always, move silently toward the water. As the darkness deepens, the pink blossoms seem to turn a dusky shade of gray. Inside the gray caudex a poisonous milky substance moves slowly and silently. As the darkness deepens, the long silence ends in terror …

It’s just a banal little story of darkness, of hunger and thirst, of predator and prey – and of one delicate and poisonous shrub in a land far away.

In the eastern African countries of Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Kenya, we find a plant full of contradiction. It is a plant, poisonous from its leaves to its caudex, yet so delicate it can rot and die from what could be considered very minor damage to its stem.

A. obesum is a slow-growing plant that thrives in intense sunlight. The plant’s coloring can be brown, but much more commonly is a shade of gray. The pretty flowers, the absence of thorns and the luster of the green leaves can lull you into carelessness. Just remember, its sap is very poisonous. Handle with care.