A deciduous shrub of calcareous woodland, often on steep, sometimes rocky, slopes with little ground cover, but rarely in deep shade. It also grows in chalk-pits, and in wet, species-rich fens. It reproduces by seed and is self-fertile. 0-335 m (Ling Gill, Ribblesdale, Mid-W. Yorks.).
D. mezereum was not recorded in the wild until 1752. It has been cultivated for centuries and escapes are common, so its native range is somewhat uncertain. Native populations have suffered from habitat loss and uprooting, but it is common in gardens, is frequently bird-sown, and is increasing as an alien.
Eurosiberian Boreo-temperate element; widely naturalised outside its native range.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 110
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: -0.06
Scarce Atlas Account
Daphne mezereum L.
This shrub grows in both ancient and recent secondary woodland on calcareous soils. In dry sites its associates include Acer pseudoplatanus, Betula spp., Brachypodium sylvaticum, Carex sylvatica, Corylus avellana, Crataegus monogyna, Fraxinus excelsior, Hedera helix, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Ligustrum vulgare, Lonicera periclymenum, Mercurialis perennis, Rubus spp. and some common woodland mosses. It has been recorded from several chalk pits where there is relatively little competition from other ground flora. As a dense canopy develops and it is shaded, it may fail to flower. In Dorset and Hampshire there are substantial colnies in very wet, species rich fens with invading alder scrub. It is a mainly lowland species, but is found up to 335 metres at Ling Gill in Ribblesdale.
It is a perennial, deciduous shrub which produces fragrant, pink-purple flowers very early in the year before the leaves unfold in late spring. It is pollinated by moths and bees and reproduces by seeds, which turn bright red when ripe in late summer and are eaten by birds. Germination can occur quickly with green seed, but ripe seed requires removal of the red flesh and some abrasion of the seed coat, so germination is assisted by partial digestion by birds. D. mezereum probably requires open ground for germination.
It is difficult to assess trends in this species as it has long been cultivated. Plants have been taken into cultivation from the wild but also colonise semi-natural habitats from cultivated stock. Native populations have declined over a long period, perhaps because of habitat destruction and collection. Plants are also susceptible to virus and most species of Daphne are known to be relatively short-lived in cultivation.
D. mezereum is a continental species, widespread in Europe and Asia from Spain east to the Altai Mountains. It is also established as an escape from cultivation in North America.
There is some debate about its native range in Britain. It is poisonous to humans, pigs and wolves. Gerarde (1597) informs us that “The leaves of Mezereon do purge downward, flegme, choler and waterish humors with great violence. Also if a drunkard do eat one graine or berrie of this plant, he cannot be allured to drinke any drinke at that time; such will be the heate of his mouth and choking in the throte”.
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.