Garden Thugs: Daphne laureola

Daphne Laureola

A couple years ago I was walking over to a friend’s house when I was arrested by the fragrance coming from a lovely compact shrub along the sidewalk. It took me a while to discover that it was Daphne laureola (Spurge Laurel)–which didn’t surprise me, because my experience with Daphne so far is that they are delightfully fragrant! I have a Daphne odora ‘Marginata’, and my neighbour has (I think) Daphne x tansatlantica ‘Summer Ice’.

Shiny, evergreen D. laureola amidst winter blooming Heather.  You can just see flower buds starting under the top-most layer of leaves.

Shiny, evergreen D. laureola amidst winter blooming Heather. You can just see flower buds starting under the top-most layer of leaves. Click on picture to enlarge.

The unfortunate thing about all Daphnes is that all parts of them are toxic to humans when ingested, and sap can cause reactions on the skin. Now, that’s bad enough with the hybrid versions of Daphne, but with Daphne laureola, a species native to Europe, it carries more problems. First of all (unlike the hybrids) it’s tolerant of almost all soils–although it’s native soil is alkaline, it’s doing just fine in our acidic local soil, and especially in wooded areas of the Douglas-fir and Garry Oak ecosystems. (See this article on the Vancouver Master Gardener website.) It also (unlike the hybrids) produces berries, toxic to humans and small animals, but not to birds. So the birds eat the berries and deposit the seeds wherever they fly, spreading Daphne laureola far beyond where it was planted.

It is undeniably a pretty shrub, but it has too many disadvantages to justify planting it in your garden. Alternatives that meet the same cultural needs include Skimmia, Sarcococca, ┬áPieris, small Rhododendrons and Azaleas (although the last two aren’t fragrant), and even the beautiful Daphne odora and Daphne x transatlantica.

Photo Credit Great Plant Picks

Photo Credit Great Plant Picks

Would you consider removing your Daphne laureloa?

Master Gardener Spring Seminar

From the Speakers’ Bios: “Dr Marion Brodhagen is a former farm girl who has never lost her interest in agriculture. She teaches at Western Washington U in microbiology, molecular biology and cellular biology. Trained a a molecular plant pathologist she is better at killing plants than growing them! She does research in the chemical communication that occurs between plants and microbes (both good ones and bad ones). She is learning to tango, writes poetry and kayaks whenever she has the chance.”

That preface didn’t at all prepare us for the amazing and hilarious hour that was to come. Chemical talking between species is unbelievable! For example, did you know that there is a mucousy phase around all the root hairs of a plant the the plant secretes itself. And into that phase the root hairs leak specific sugars and amino acids that attract beneficial organisms which then take up all the available space making it inhospitable to pathogens.

Here’s another tidbit. We all know that clover is a legume, and legumes are Nitrogen fixing plants, right? Wrong. It’s the bacteria that the clover attracts that does the N-fixing. The clover secretes flavonoids which are “come hither” chemicals that attract the N-fixing bacteria. The bacteria then coat themselves in a friendly sugar that the clover recognizes as something it needs, and invites them in. The bacteria literally invade the roots of the clover and the clover is so happy about it that it forms a protective covering around the rapidly growing colony of bacteria. Those are the nodules you see at the end of roots when you pull up a legume plant.

Rhizobium-infected roots