Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Spurge-laurel - Daphne laureola

Family: Thymelaeaceae (Mezereum family) [E-flora]


General Bushy.[IFBC] [E-flora] "growing to 1 m (3ft 3in)." [PFAF] "Plants can live longer than 40 years....Branches readily sprout from the base of older stems, often growing horizontally for a short distance before turning upwards." [NRN]
Lifecycle Evergreen.[PFAF] deciduous or evergreen. [RHS]
Flowers greenish-yellow flowers. [RHS] "Inflorescence of axillary, nearly unstalked clusters".[IFBC] [E-flora] "The flowers are hermaphrodite...and are pollinated by Bees, lepidoptera." [PFAF]
Fruits Drupes, egg-shaped.[IFBC] [E-flora] black berries [NRN]
Leaves glossy dark green [RHS] "Alternate, oval to oblanceolate..."[IFBC] [E-flora]
Properties Very fragrant flowers. [RHS]
Habitat "Mesic forests and waste areas".[IFBC][E-flora] "Woods, mainly on calcareous soils, where it is widespread and rather common[17]." [PFAF] "moist areas of our Douglas fir/ arbutus and Garry oak ecosystems, replacing native vegetation and forming a dense canopy blocking out light to the ground." [mgabc]
Range "infrequent on S Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and adjacent mainland; introduced from Eurasia."[IFBC][E-flora] "Western and southern Europe, from Britain and Belgium to Spain and Macedonia, N. Africa, W. Asia." [PFAF] Introduced from Mediterranean Eurasia.[NRN]

Fully Naturalized in New Zealand [NewZeaNatural] "generally found in the understory of coniferous and mixed montane forests in the Mediterranean area." [Alonso, 2009]
Status Exotic. [E-flora]
Notes "This species is listed by the Greater Vancouver Invasive Plant Council of the twelve most problematic species in the Vancouver region." [E-flora]


Other Uses

Medicinal Uses


Medicinal Use


"Other genera in the family Thymelaeaceae (Daphne, Gnidia, etc.) have pro-inflammatory, cocarcinogenic diterpenes" [Alkaloids,chem&Bioperspect8]

Dried Bark:


Daphne Sp.; "...the genus Daphne contains many classes of secondary metabolites, some of which are dominated coumarins, flavonoids, lignans, and steroids". [Sovrlic et al.]

"The plant contains various toxic compounds and these are currently being investigated (1995) for anti-leukaemia effects[238]." [PFAF]

"The bark contains a crystalline glucoside, daphnin, which is not the active principle, however, the medical virtues depending upon an acrid resin termed mezerein." [Sayre] Daphne mezereum; "Daphnetoxin and mezerein are diterpene alcohols with a daphnane skeleton. Mezerein has cocarcinogenic activity as does the chemically related phorbol esters found in many toxic members of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae)." [CPPIS]

Total polyphenols (% Dry Weight)

  • Leaves; 1.42±0.20 [Grubeši? et al.]
  • Stems; 2.47±0.25 [Grubeši? et al.]
  • Roots; 2.71±0.11 [Grubeši? et al.]

Tannins (% DW)

  • Leaves; 0.36±0.12 [Grubeši? et al.]
  • Stems; 0.97±0.17 [Grubeši? et al.]
  • Roots ; 1.14±0.04 [Grubeši? et al.]

Total flavonoids (% DW)

  • Leaves; 0.51±0. [Grubeši? et al.]
  • Stems; 0.20±0.07 [Grubeši? et al.]
  • Roots ; 0.07±0.03 [Grubeši? et al.]

Total phenolic acids (% DW)

  • Leaves; 0.14 ± 0.01 [Grubeši? et al.]
  • Stems; 0.12 ± 0.01 [Grubeši? et al.]
  • Roots ; 0.14 ± 0.02 [Grubeši? et al.]

Radical Scavenging Activity EC50(mg/mL)

  • Leaves; 4363.37 ± 159.35 [Grubeši? et al.]
  • Stems; 799.06 ± 126.42 [Grubeši? et al.]
  • Roots ; 1285.36 ± 30.04 [Grubeši? et al.]
Antioxidant EC50(mg/mL)
  • Leaves; 308.56 ± 8.23 [Grubeši? et al.]
  • Stems; 404.61 ± 15.14 [Grubeši? et al.]
  • Roots ; 328.74 ± 2.59 [Grubeši? et al.]

* "The term half maximal effective concentration (EC50) refers to the concentration of a drug, antibody or toxicant which induces a response halfway between the baseline and maximum after a specified exposure time.[1] It is commonly used as a measure of drug's potency." [Wiki]

"...we identified three different glycosides of 7-methoxycoumarin in leaves of this species. Total coumarin concentration averaged between 60 and 120 mg/g dry weight for mature summer leaves of D. laureola growing at six different populations. As predicted by optimal theory, females tended to have a higher concentration of coumarins than hermaphrodites, thus upholding the idea that male reproductive function is costly for hermaphrodites." [Alonso et al.] Three glycosides of 7-methoxy-coumarin have recently been isolated from D. laureola leaves (Alonso et al., 2005). [Alonso, 2009]
Daphne mezereum; "The bark of these daphne plants contains a coumarin glycoside that has the aglycone dihydroxycoumarin (Fuller and McClintock 1986)."[CPPIS]


"Polyfimctional diterpene esters of the tigliane, ingenane, and daphnene types are responsible for the acrid properties [of Eupborbiaceae and Thymelaeaeae]." [Seiger PSM]

"The fruit and bark of Daphne species contain daphnetoxin (19). The seeds contain mezerein (21). Both of these compounds can produce irritant dermatitis in humans, and mezerein (21) possesses cocarcinogenic activity as well (Alcaraz and Rios, 1991). Odoracin (22), a structurally similar diterpene from Daphne, possesses nematicidal activity in tests against the nematode, Aphelenchoides beseyi. At 5 ppm, this diterpene is 100% nematicidal (Mabry and Gill, 1979)." [Seiger PSM]

"The diterpenes of yuan-hua, Daphne genkwa, have been reported to be abortifacient (Bingel and Fong, 1988). Four active compounds have been isolated: yuanhuacine (23), yuanhuadine (24), yuanhuaf'me (25), and yuanhuatine (26). Yuanhua· dine is administered intra-amnionically and yuanhuacine either intra- or extra-amniotically to induce second-trimester abortion (Bingel and Fong, 1988)." [Seiger PSM]


"Prefers a moist soil and a position in semi-shade, growing well in woodlands[11]. Plants are often found growing in dense shade in the wild[245]. A good sandy loam suits most members of this genus[11]. Flowers are produced towards the ends of the previous year's growth[11]. They are sweetly scented[245]. Plants are resentful of root disturbance and should be planted into their permanent positions as soon as possible[188]." [PFAF]

Caution should be used with daphne removal because burning, brush sawing, or chipping releases noxious chemicals into the air. These chemicals also prevent browsers from eating Daphne. [NRN]

" drier forests, such as those in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, invasive species such as holly (Ilex aquifolium), ivy - Hedera helix and H. hibernica..., and spurge laurel (Daphne laureola) have little difficulty establishing a toe-hold even in undisturbed forests. In disturbed areas diverse invasive species can establish and create restoration challenges." [Apostol RPNW]


Considered a deer resistant plant [1]

Foliage-feeding lepidopteran larvae were the most frequent herbivores on D. laureola. Mammalian herbivores do not browse on D. laureola plants, probably because of the presence of a variety of toxic and repellent substances in the foliage (Hegnauer 1972)." [Alonso,1996]

"Herbivory by noctuid moth larvae (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae) on" D. lauereola "was studied under natural conditions in a south-eastern Spanish montane habitat." "Variation among plants in the incidence of noctuid larvae was directly related to the number of leaf whorls, and inversely to the mean basal diameter of stems," "Within plants, larvae preferentially selected leaf whorls having shorter supporting stems and lower branching orders." [Alonso,1996] Population defoliation levels of D. laureola averaged less than 5% of the leaf area, and individual defoliation ranged between 0.9 and 12.8% [Alonso, 2009]

"Daphne laureola seems to be a well-defended plant. In southern Spanish populations in which Noctuidae diversity is high (Yela & Herrera, 1993), D. laureola is only consumed by four species and herbivory levels are moderate to low (Alonso & Herrera, 1996, 2003).... the highly polyphagous S. littoralis[(Spodoptera littoralis)] demonstrated rejection of D. laureola leaves at early stages of larval development; the most abundant coumarin in young leaves also efficiently decreased consumption by late instars, thus supporting a defensive role of this compound against generalist herbivorous insects." [Alonso, 2009]


"Seed - best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe with the pot sealed in a polythene bag to hold in the moisture. Remove this bag as soon as germination takes place[164]. The seed usually germinates better if it is harvested 'green' (when it has fully developed but before it dries on the plant) and sown immediately. Germination should normally take place by spring, though it sometimes takes a further year. Stored seed is more problematic. It should be warm stratified for 8 - 12 weeks at 20°c followed by 12 - 14 weeks at 3°c. Germination may still take another 12 months or more at 15°c[164]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle. Grow the plants on in the greenhouse for their first winter and then plant out in spring after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame." [PFAF]

Daphne Sp.

"The genus Daphne (Thymelaeaceae), including about 70 species, is distributed in Europe, Asia, North Africa and Australia. Species Daphne cneorum distributed in West, Central and East Europe, Mediterranean region, South–West Asia." [Manojlovic et al.]

"Comprising a genus of some 50 or more species, Daphne are native to Europe, North Africa, and subtropical Asia." [DP2]
"Species of the genus Daphne are used in natural medicine as a diuretic, laxative, an anticoagulant, in the treatment against skin diseases, toothache, and malaria. Previous studies of individual species of the genus Daphne indicate their potential broad application in medicine [7–11]." [Manojlovic et al.] "Daphne species...used... also in traditional medicine as a purgative, anticoagulant and diuretic." [Sovrlic et al.]

"All the species of Daphne are possessed of active properties, but three only are official—D. Mesereum, D. Laureola, and D. Gnidium, all of which are recognized in the United States Pharm., and the last in the former French Codex, 1884." [Remington USD20]


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