Mention “Daphne” and gardeners will think of the popular Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’ or other sweetly and beautifully scented species and cultivars. There are two daphne species which are possibly native to England, one of which is sometimes seen in Ireland but seldom in large numbers.
Many years ago on a country walk in an old demesne I saw a dwarf evergreen bush and wondered if it was Daphne laureola, the spurge laurel. It had some broken branches which yielded a few cuttings, which was lucky, as going back a year later the whole bush was gone. All of the cuttings rooted and subsequent flowering has yielded good crops of berries. This is the usual method by which this plant travels around and pops up where least expected, within a well fed thrush or blackbird.
Daphne laureola is a very shade tolerant plant, growing towards light in really dark positions, but forming a naturally shaped low bush under normal tree cover. It is one of the few plants I have found that is even happy under dense bamboo where it will grow well and provide a good bushy ground cover if needed. The green flowers are unscented, and as they flower in January/February seed set is dependent on good weather for pollinating insects. The berries are poisonous to humans, but popular with birds, and because of this it was planted for pheasants years ago, which probably accounts for its widespread distribution
Text and photographs by Stephen Butler, Director of Horticulture at Dublin Zoo and Chairperson of the Leinster branch of the IGPS