Daphne mezereum
Common Name: mezereon
Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Thymelaeaceae
Native Range: Europe, Asia
Zone: 4 to 7
Height: 3.00 to 5.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 5.00 feet
Bloom Time: March to April
Bloom Description: Reddish purple to pink
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Hedge, Naturalize
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy
Tolerate: Rabbit

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 4-7. This is a cool weather, shade-loving, woodland shrub than dislikes the hot and humid summers of the deep South. It is best grown in moist, rich, sandy-humusy, moderately alkaline, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Application of mulch will help keep roots cool. Although it prefers part shade locations, it will grow in full sun as long as the soils are kept uniformly moist. Avoid full sun (leaves will scorch) in hot summer climates however. Site in locations protected from strong winds.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Daphne mezereum, commonly called February daphne because of its late winter flowers, is a small deciduous shrub with an erect and bushy habit that typically grows to 3-5' tall and as wide. It is native to forests, forest margins and shrubby areas in Europe and Western Asia. It was introduced into North America in colonial times resulting in naturalization in parts of Canada (Quebec and Ontario) and the U. S. (New England to New York and later to Ohio, Montana and Alaska). Oblanceolate, dark green leaves to 3.5” long are arranged spirally along the stems. Fragrant reddish-purple to pink flowers (each to 1/2” across) bloom in stalkless clusters (2-4 flowers per cluster) in late March to early April prior to the emergence of the leaves. Flowers are followed by small fruits (drupes to 3/8” long) which mature in June.

All parts of this plant are poisonous to humans if ingested, especially the fruits, sap and bark. Plant saps also typically cause skin irritations. Plant saps were once used in a rouge-like cosmetic until it was discovered that rosy cheeks resulting from application of sap to skin were indicators of blood vessel damage rather than the blush of good health. Fruits are attractive to birds with no resulting ill effects.

Genus name originally used for laurel (Laurus nobilis) but later transferred to this genus. Originally, from the nymph of the same name from Greek mythology, but could come from an Indo-European word meaning odor.

Specific epithet comes from the Persian word mazariyun (name given to a species of Daphne).

Problems

Susceptible to infection from several different viruses. Plants can be temperamental and unpredictable. Michael Dirr reports that daphnes sometimes die very quickly for “no explicable reason.” Watch for botrytis.

Garden Uses

May be difficult to find in commerce. Rounded deciduous shrub for borders and foundations. Specimen or small groups. May be used as an informal hedge.