Monday, 3 December 2012

Spurge Laurel

This native evergreen shrub is frequent around Byfield, occupying waste ground and neglected corners of gardens. Despite its name it is neither a spurge nor a laurel but a Daphne, Daphne laureola. I write about it now because its flower buds are becoming quite plump and may burst into bloom within the next few weeks. If John Clare is correct -and he was an excellent observer of all countryside things - it may even bloom in autumn:

                    While Dark Spurge Laurel on the banks below
                    In stubborn bloom the Autumn blight defies.

                                                    Clare's Shepherd's Calender, 1827

In our village it begins to in flower in January and I photographed it early this year in Lovett Road. To our limited olfactory systems its fragrance is light; to that of a bee it may be far stronger. Certainly flowering in mid-winter it needs all the fragrance it can muster if it is to attract any insects for the flowers are quite inconspicuous. Somehow pollination is achieved because the shrub usually bears plenty of oval black berries later in the year.

Spurge Laurel is one of two laurel species once found in Northamptonshire. The other is - or was - Daphne mezereum, known commonly as Mezereon. It is thinly scattered in light woodland on limestone throughout southern England, but the last specimen known from our county was dug up from a wood at Evenley, near Brackley, in 1909. There is a good case to be made for planting a specimen or two in our village pocket park although there is reason to believe that the specimens known from Evenley Wood were garden escapes.

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