This plant is also known as “tormented throat” as it contains toxins that inflame the throat, even a few berries can cause fatalities and the juice of the berries can cause rashes and blisters. It’s interesting though that wagtails and thrushes can eat the berries without ill-effect and do so spitting out the kernels.It is a deciduous shrub growing to 1.5 m tall. The leaves are soft, 3-8 cm long and 1-2 cm broad, arranged spirally on the stems. The flowers are produced in early spring on the bare stems before the leaves appear. They have a four-lobed pink or light purple (rarely white) perianth 10-15 mm diameter, and are strongly scented. The fruit is a bright red berry 7-12 mm diameter; it is very poisonous for people, though fruit-eating birds like thrushes are immune and eat them, dispersing the seeds in their droppings.
The name Daphne comes from the Greek myth that Daphne appealed to Aphrodite to save her from a lustful god so she was turned into a tree. As a result, virgins wear Daphne leaves to preserve their purity.
One of our more unusual wild flowers, Daphne mezereum is a British that thrives on chalky soils. This is one small shrub that delivers big time in winter with beautiful flowers of purple or pure white that have the most intoxicating fragrance.
Possibly my personal favourite winter shrub of all though is a Daphne relative from China – Edgeworthia chrysantha, the Paper Bush. The flexible bark of this beauty was traditionally made into bank notes, but unless you’re planning your own small-scale printing operation, you, like me, will be more drawn to the tubular, fragrant flowers of pale yellow. The form ‘Red Dragon’, if you can find it, is even more beautiful with impossibly exotic bright red flowers that, on a sunny winters day (and possibly depending on what you’ve been drinking the night before) might just convince you that you’re in the Caribbean.
Hamamelis (Witch Hazels) are firm favourites that can be found in most larger gardens. The old hybrid ‘Pallida’ is still hard to beat on the scent front, but there are a range of new-ish hybrids arriving from breeders in Belgium that deliver much larger flowers with the same awesome perfume. Colours vary from pale yellow through copper orange to blood red. ‘Nina’ is the finest of all the yellows and I particularly love the dramatic, large burnt orange flowers of recently introduced ‘Aurora’ and ‘Aphrodite.’Mezereon is a deciduous shrub with upright branches, flowering profusely on bare wood from February to March. Rubra variety is the one with deepest pink-red flowers. They appear in short clusters of 2-4 flowers and have a strong, sweet perfume. In early summer small berries of poisonous fruit ripen. The leaves are elongate, fresh green.
The shrub grows slowly and resent transplanting. It likes medium fertile soil that is well drained but keeps moisture. Fully hardy to -34°C (USDA zone 4).Is a species of Daphne in the flowering plant family Thymelaeaceae, native to most of Europe and Western Asia, north to northern Scandinavia and Russia. In southern Europe it is confined to medium to higher elevations and in the subalpine vegetation zone, but descends to near sea level in northern Europe. It is generally confined to soils derived from limestone.One of the first plants to flower at the end of winter is this mezereon. Well before the first spring trees open their buds you can find this plant flowering in the wild, along the paths in the woods or on sunny meadows. Its natural habitat is Europe.