Coastal Invasive Species Committee


The Scourge of Spurge Laurel (Salt Spring Island Concervancy)

ALIEN PLANT INVADERS: The Scourge of Spurge Laurel

by Jean Wilkinson, Stewardship Committee, Salt Spring Island Conservancy

Spurge Laurel (aka Daphne) has become widespread throughout southwestern B.C. in recent years. It is a rhododendron-like garden escapee with very toxic leaves and berries. It spreads rapidly through yards and nearby woods, creating dense stands and shading out all other plants.

Spurge laurel is recognized as a serious threat to local ecosystems, particularly since it can grow in shady, undisturbed forest areas. It also poses a significant human health risk, especially to children, since eating just 7 to 10 berries can be fatal.

Spurge laurel can be removed at any time of the year, but care must be taken to avoid spreading any berries that may be present.


Identification – (Daphne laureola) evergreen shrub 60-180 cm (24-72 inches) tall, living up to 40 years, looks similar to Rhododendron, with clusters of oblong, waxy leaves, light greenish-yellow flowers in early spring, green poisonous berries ripening to black by summer

Impacts – A serious public health risk due to toxicity of all plant parts. Spreads rapidly and grows densely in undisturbed as well as disturbed areas, shades native plants, thus displacing them and reducing biodiversity.

Found –in moist, partial to full shady areas and forest understory, especially near urban and residential areas

Spreads – via seeds in the berries (distributed long distances by birds and rodents), and by underground lateral roots

Control – Remove plants before they form seeds if possible. Pull small plants out when soil is moist. Larger plants must be cut beneath the mineral soil surface, below where the brown stem changes to orange, or they will re-sprout. Often stems lie along the ground and need to be pulled up to find where they are rooted before cutting. Monitor sites yearly after treatment to remove seedlings and re-sprouts. Most seeds germinate within 2 years.

CAUTION: Wear gloves, long sleeves and goggles as many people experience skin irritation and blistering on contact with leaves or sap. Wash hands, clothes and gloves afterwards. Avoid transporting cut plants in enclosed vehicles as airborne sap droplets can cause eye and throat irritation. Symptoms of poisoning due to eating the berries or bark include burning in the mouth, swelling of the tongue and lips, thirst, difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, weakness, coma and death.

FIRST AID: If any plant part is eaten, induce vomiting and consult a physician immediately. If sap contacts mouth or eyes, flush with large amounts of water and consult a physician. If sap contacts skin, flush with lots of water. If a rash develops, treat with anti-inflammatory cream and if it persists, consult a physician.

Disposal – Put cut plants in tarps or bags to avoid spreading seeds and reduce irritation from airborne sap droplets. Take to landfill. Do not compost. Do not burn or chip plant parts as noxious chemicals will be released into the air.

Alternatives – (Grows in *Sun, +Part Shade or # Full Shade, M prefers Moist conditions, D prefers Dry, DT is Drought Tolerant)

Native Plants: Western Rhododendron +# M; Evergreen Huckleberry +# M,D; Tall Oregon Grape *+ D, DT; Low Oregon Grape +# M,D,DT; Salal +#M,D,DT; Sword Fern+# M,D,DT; Falsebox *+ M.

Non-Invasive Non-natives: Fragrant Sweet Box +# M,D; Daphne Odora *+ M,D; Burkwood Daphne *+ M,D; Daphnoides Rhododendron *+ M; Delavay Osmanthus *+ M,DT; Japanese Evergreen Azalea *+ M.

More Info: Salt Spring Island Conservancy Stewardship Committee 250-537-4877, Coastal Invasive Plant Committee , Invasive Plant Council of B.C.