Spurge-Laurel; Daphne laureola

I was not sure whether to include this or not in a book on wildflowers, because it is more of a little shrub, but then again I have included Gorse and strictly speaking Heather and Bilberry are shrubby. There is of course no hard and fast distinction between where a herb stops and a shrub begins. One definition is that shrubs have several woody stems emanating from one point and herbs are plants with annual stems, dying down to ground level each year. There may be one stem there may be many. However when Spurge-Laurel is young it has one stem as you can see in my photograph below.   Thyme which I think of as a herb is classified as a sub-shrub!!!

Sometimes also referred to as Laurel -Spurge it is neither one nor the other. Its leaves do look like Laurel, they are leathery shiny and the same shape, but it is not a Laurel. The flowers do not resemble those of Spurge, in fact its only resemblance to spurge is the overall shape of the plant. Actually in the photo below there is a small plant of Wood Spurge growing right beside the larger Spurge-Laurel. The flowers are produced quite early in the year and are somewhat hidden under the spreading and imposing leaves. Also the flowers are small and tubular they are a light greenish colour. I have read that some will produce a strong scent and others do not, I have never detected any smell from the ones I have come across. These flowers are insect pollinated so a strong smell would be an advantage. I suspect that pollination is not that efficient as I cannot recall ever seeing large numbers of fruits, certainly not as many as the flowers, but that is often the case. If every apple blossom produced an apple then the trees would be inundated.  It is very poisonous plant and the  black clusters of fruits, are eaten by birds, but as is often the case, the fact that birds eat them does not mean that we can.

I can not remember ever having seen this plant in East Anglia but it does grow there, although it is predominantly in Suffolk and mostly absent in Norfolk where I mainly operated.  I do see it quite often in Gloucestershire. It likes heavy and alkaline soils. ie Cotswoldish. It is often found in Beech woods. For some reason it becomes much rarer in Wales particularly as you get further west. It is classified as native but quite often its presence will be due to escapes. It is also often found in woods that owe their existence to pheasant shooting. Gamekeepers like to encourage a good dense layer of low growing shrubs and Snowberry is a favoured plant as is this Spurge-Laurel. This provides cover for the game.

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