Daphne mezereum

25 Feb

Daphne mezereum Flower (20/02/2011, London)

Daphne mezereum Flower (20/02/2011, London)

Position: Full sun to light shade

Soil: Moist but well drained

Flowering period: Late winter to early spring

Eventual Height: 1.5m

Eventual Spread: 1.2m

Hardiness: 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a

Family: Thymelaeaceae

Daphne mezereum is a deciduous shrub with an upright, architectural habit. It has inversely lanceolate, pale green leaves that become a soft grey when mature. In late winter to early spring it bears extremely fragrant, lateral clusters of pink to purplish pink flowers on the bare branches. These are followed by fleshy spherical red berries.

Daphne mezereum also known as Spurge Olive, Spurge Flax and Dwarf Bay. It is native to England  and is dispersed over most of Europe and some of west Asia. It is highly poisonous if ingested (especially the sap or fruit) and it will cause a burning sensation in the mouth, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. A large dose will cause serious damage to the internal passages and may be lethal. Historically women used the sap as a rouge inducing cosmetic product, but this stopped once it was discovered that this effect was achieved through damage to the blood vessels. John Gerard, who also described the Cornus mas, described it as a treatment for alcohol abuse stating the burning effect on the mouth would disabuse the drinker from alcohol, as it would worsen the condition.

The name Daphne is the old Greek name for Laurus nobilis, some authorities say it was named after the river god’s daughter in Grecian mythology, who on being pursued by an amorous Apollo, prayed for aid and was transformed into a laurel tree. Mezereum is probably from the Persian mazaryum, the spurge olive although some authorities believe the word to mean deadly.

Daphne mezereum (20/02/2011, London)

Daphne mezereum (20/02/2011, London)

Daphne mezereum is useful to the landscape architect for its strongly fragrant winter blooms and its architectural habit. Care should be taken with the placement of this plant in the public landscape due to its poisonous nature. It should not be located where the berries can be easily accessed by unsupervised children.

Ecologically, Daphne mezereum is attractive to pollinating insects and thrushes which are attracted to the fruit as they are immune to its poisons.

Daphne mezereum prefers moist, fertile, well-drained soils. It tolerates most pH of soil. It will not tolerate dry soils.

Daphne mezereum requires little . Hard pruning should be avoided, if damaged branches need to removed this should be done immediately after it has finished flowering. Care should be taken when handling this plant as the sap is toxic and sometimes an irritant to the skin.

Davis Landscape Architecture


One Response to “Daphne mezereum”


  1. Plant of the week: Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ « landscape architecture Blog - 01/03/2011

    […] name Daphne is the old Greek name for Laurus nobilis, some authorities say it was named after the river god’s […]

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