Weed of the Week: Daphne/Spurge-laurel

A gardening favourite and a bird’s delight, spurge-laurel (daphne laureola) is a seemingly harmless plant that resembles the Pacific rhododendron; however, this invasive plant grows rapidly, out-competes native vegetation, and poses a serious health risk to people and pets for its poisonous sap.

Spurge-Laurel is an evergreen shrub native to Britain, with spring-blooming yellowish green flowers and black berries. Occuring in late summer, the berries are poisonous to people and pets, but not to birds. Toxins are in the bark, sap, and berries, and if contacted, the sap is known to cause skin rashes, nausea, swelling of the tongue and coma. One fatality of a child in Nova Scotia has been linked to the consumption of its berries.

Spurge-laurel is listed as a poisonous plant with the Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System, and Worksafe BC has issued a toxic plant warning.

A relatively new invasive plant for BC, spurge-laurel has escaped the garden to natural areas of southern Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and the Lower Mainland with the help of birds and rodents. It is found along roadsides, moist woods and lowland areas, growing up to 1.5 meters in height. Unlike many other invasive plants, spurge-laurel does not require disturbed soil or open ground to become established.

Spurge-Laurel is a gardening favourite for its strongly fragrant yellow-green flowers, and dense alternate leaves. Leaves are dark green and glossy, with a pleasing whorl formation. They are highly adaptable to sun or shade, and grow rapidly, colonizing entire areas and taking over native vegetation.

Though an attractive addition to a garden, this plant is invasive to BC, and should be replaced with suitable, non-invasive alternatives. Alternatives recommended in the Grow Me Instead booklet include Oregon grape (berberis (mahonia) nervosa) and winter daphne (daphne odora). Hard copies can also be ordered through the online store.

Hand-pulling is the most effective method for small infestations of this dangerous invasive plant. Gloves should be worn to protect against the caustic sap. Shrubs that are too large for hand-pulling may require digging out. After pulling, monitor the area for any new seedlings and cover with a deep mulch.

Invasive plants are the second greatest threat to biodiversity after habitat loss— prevention is key to halt their spread. Contact the ISCBC at 1-888-WEEDSBC or visit to find out ways you can help stop invasive plants through ‘smart’ gardening practices.

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