Spurge-laurel, Daphne laureola, is a plant that I generally expect to find in flower during, or just after, the BSBI’s New Year Plant Hunt every year. This year, I was surprised to discover it flowering in early November in my local wood. According to my Collins Wild Flower Guide, it is supposed to flower between February and March. It is one of many wild flowers that local botanists have found flowering either exceptionally early or late this year. Nature seems a bit confused. Spurge-laurel has become an Advent flower to my mind.
Spurge-laurel is a small, evergreen shrub in the Thymelaeaceae family. It inhabits the understory of deciduous woodlands on calcareous soils. At first sight, it might easily be mistaken for a Rhododendron. The glossy, laurel-like leaves are distributed in a whorl around a woody stem. A closer inspection reveals yellowish-green, tubular flowers clustered in leaf axils at the top of the plant.
This native shrub has been widely planted to provide game cover. Some gardeners choose it for its shade tolerance.
The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) recognise Spurge-laurel, as well as that other native family member, Daphne mezereon, as a Category B poisonous plant. The Association warns against both ingestion and skin contact. There are very few reported cases of actual poisoning. Despite being severely poisonous to humans, the black berries are not harmful to birds at all. They are egg-shaped and appear between June and September. It simply is not possible to remove poisonous plants from the countryside without robbing birds of valuable food sources. It is far better to learn to recognise and identify such plants accurately as in past times.
Today, Spurge-laurel largely goes unnoticed. I decided to include it in my 2020 Advent Botany blog series because it highlights changes in flowering patterns due to climate change. I wonder how many more plants might become Advent plants in future?
Gallery of Images
References and Further Reading
- Dauncey, Elizabeth A. (2010): Poisonous Plants. A guide for parents & childcare providers. Kew. p.86
- NatureSpot (?): Spurge-laurel.
- Streeter, David et al. (2016): Collins Wild Flower Guide. 2nd Edition. The Most Complete Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland. William Collins. London.
- Vickery, Roy (2010): Spurge laurel. Plant-Lore.
- Wild Flower Finder (?): Spurge Laurel.
- Wildlife Trusts (?): Spurge laurel.
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