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Dispose of this Daphne

March 25, 2014

Did you know Daphne can be an awful weed?

Most gardeners swoon at the mention of Daphne — despite the fact that many of the “evergreen” varieties defoliate every winter. Or, even worse, they just give up the ghost without warning or apparent reason. Still, I suggest Daphne to just about every client who has the right attitude and the right spot for their finicky needs.


This is one of the desirable Daphnes – don’t dump this one!
Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’ is semi-evergreen with variegated leaves & great spring fragrance.

I just warn anyone who plants a Daphne not to beat themselves up too badly if they walk outside one day and find their special plant seems to have mysteriously croaked overnight. That’s the thing about these special lovelies — they can be unpredictable. But they’re worth it.

Okay, so enough about how great Daphne can be…what about this idea that a Daphne might be a weed?

Daphne laureola

Daphne laureola – a true weed shrub – in bloom in early spring.

There’s this one Daphne that’s spread itself far and wide in the Seattle area — Daphne laureola, which also goes by the names Spurge Daphne or Spurge Laurel. Yes, it’s a Daphne. Yes, it’s an evergreen, easy-care shrub. No, it does not smell good. And, yes, it is a weed. In fact, in King County, which includes Seattle, this sucker is a “Non-Regulated Class B Noxious Weed“. Essentially, that means it’s non-native, invasive, wide-spread, and landowners are encouraged to do everything they can to keep it from spreading more. In other Washington state counties, where this junky plant hasn’t established itself as well as it has in King County, it’s mandated that landowners remove it. But how and why?

Why would we need to get rid of this plant? It is, after all, a small evergreen that thrives in even dry shade — something many of us strive to find in a hardy shrub. Dry shade is also what exists in many of our native eco-systems, so this stuff becomes a problematic competitor. And, it also happens to be toxic to humans and pets — through ingestion as well as skin contact. Doesn’t sound so great now, does it?

Daphne laureola as a weed

Uninvited Daphne laureola breaking the lines of an otherwise designed garden bed.

We see this stuff popping up everywhere: in rockeries, in new plantings, in established beds, on forest trails. Often homeowners point it out as one of their favorite plants — because it is so easy to take care of and “I don’t remember buying this one, but it sure does great in the garden.” Well, probably a bird pooped it into the garden. This stuff loves to spread by feeding wildlife, which moves on to deposit it just about anywhere.

How can we identify it?

– Is your plant about 2′-4′ tall and wide?

– Is your plant evergreen?

– Are the stems stiff and rubbery rather than brittle?

Daphne laureola ID features

Daphne laureola stems are rubbery, brown & dotted.
It has evergreen leaves and yellowish spring flowers that some say smell good at night.

– Is the foliage or stem highly aromatic (not in a good way) when you (put on your protective gear) and cut or tear it?

-Does it have tiny green flowers in late winter to spring?

-Does it have (toxic! Don’t eat them) black berries along the stem in summer & fall?

– Does it look like any of the Daphne laureola photos we’ve shared?

If so, you’ve got a Daphne to dump.

How to eradicate it?

Because it is highly toxic, be sure to gear up carefully before you begin working on removing it. Pulling even small seedlings can be tough; this baby knows how to root in well. Instead, carefully dig the whole thing out and try to eradicate the roots or you may have new suckers coming up. If seeds have spread, clean those up as well or new seedlings are going to pop up everywhere.

Daphne laureola in a sunny rockery

Daphne laureola loves shade, but it thrives in rockeries like this one in full sun.
Dig down and get out the root, or you many not completely eradicate it.

And, if you happen to have native land where this stuff is growing, contact your local weed board manager. In Washington state, many county and state agencies are monitoring this nasty Daphne in hopes of keeping it in check. (If you happen to be outside Washington state and aren’t sure if this plant is a problem in your area, contact your local extension or state agency for assistance. The USDA Plant Profile page may be a good place to start.)

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