Spurge laurel – beautiful but poisonous plant

Spurge laurel

The spurge laurel (Daphne mezereum) is a toxic but beautiful shrub that belongs to the Thymelaeaceae family. This plant is remarkable mainly because it blooms before its first leaves appear and because it grows early in spring, many see it as such the harbinger of spring. But regardless of its beauty, it is a toxic and therefore very dangerous plant. You should be very careful if you have pets or children.

Growing spurge laurel

It usually grows in deciduous and mixed forests, from the foothills all the way the mountains of Europe, Asia and China. It is a very widespread shrub and you can find it all over Europe, but in warmer Southern Europe it usually grows at higher altitudes. It thrives in sunny locations, but it can also handle partial shade (interestingly, it prefers sun in higher areas, but partial shade in lower areas). It loves humus-rich and moist soil.

Spurge laurel

Photo: Pixabay

Flowers and fruit

Spurge laurel is a deciduous shrub that usually reaches a height of around one meter. The first flowers usually appear in March. Flowers are tubular, pink to purple (rarely white) and grow in groups of three to fives. From June to July, the shrub loses flowers as they turn into red coloured fruits. It is necessary to remember that the entire plant is poisonous, not only the fruits, however, the fruits (usually 7 to 12 mm in size) are the most poisonous part of the plant. Unfortunately, they look very tempting not only to humans but to birds, but unlike humans, birds can tolerate the poison. For example thrushes enjoy the fruit a lot and thanks to them the plant spreads as the seeds of the plant are found in their droppings. In the past, seeds were also used to make red dye.

Spurge laurel and its toxicity

Daphne mezereum is highly toxic. This is due to mezerein and daphnine which is mainly found in berries and twigs. When poisoned, the victim dies of suffocation. Sensitive individuals may experience rashes and eczema when handling twigs. Despite all these dangers spurge laurel is commonly grown as an ornamental plant and it has been a protected plant in Great Britain since 1975.

Poisoning symptoms

If you ingest this plant you may experience a burning sensation in your mouth and severe irritation within a few hours. Poisoning is often accompanied by swelling of lips and face, excessive salivation, hoarseness and difficulty to swallow. These symptoms are soon followed by severe abdominal pain, headache, numbness, nausea and diarrhoea which contains blood . Children often show other narcotic symptoms such as muscle twitching. Severe poisoning occurs if you chew on seeds, not the fruit.

Preview photo: Pixabay

Radek Štěpán

Gardening is my hobby, I have a lot of experience and I am happy to share it.


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