Plant of the Month for March 2022

Daphne mezereum album 6

Daphne mezereum album

Daphne mezereum f. alba


Daphne mezereum f. alba is an early flowering shrub. One name is February Daphne. Our climate in Southern Ontario is too cold for this name to fit! They flower in England in mid February. The flower buds open here in late March. Buds form in the fall and are clustered alternately along the ends of the twigs. The flowers are fragrant, small, whitish, 4-petalled and tubular. Small leaves appear as the clusters of flowers fully open. These leaves are 2 cm long, more or less elliptical and mid dull green.

Daphne mezereum album 2

Daphne mezereum f. alba - flowers

Green berries (actually drupes, 6 mm long) turn orange in July. They fall off at the touch when ripe and are often eaten by birds and chipmunks. Uneaten seeds readily germinate under the parent plant.

Daphne mezereum album berries

Daphne mezereum f. alba - berries

The berries, sap and bark are poisonous.

Life Cycle: Small deciduous shrub.

Size: 1-1.5m tall, 1m wide after about 10 years.

Bloom Time: March, April.

Native to: Europe across to Siberia.

Habitat: Woodland, forest margins.

Cultivars: D. m. f alba ’Bowles’ White’ and ‘Paul’s White’ are said to have purer white flowers. It is unlikely these are still available due to DSDS (see below) and seed sourced supplies.

Light: Part shade to full sun. Protect from hot weather.

Soil: Well drained, neutral to alkaline, fertile but moisture retentive. Small plants succeed best as Daphne resents root disturbance.

Water: Mulch to prevent water loss 

USDA Hardiness: Zone 4-7

Companion plants: Snowdrops and other early spring bulbs, hellebores, small hosta 

Daphne mezereum album 5

Daphne mezereum f. alba  with spring bulbs

Pruning: Minimum. Remove dead or damaged wood.

Problems: All my shrubs have died between 5 and 10 years of age. I find a plant has wilted overnight. This is probably Daphne Sudden Death Syndrome (DSDS), a disease that suddenly kills the plant. There is nothing to do to treat this fungus. Avoid cutting older branches helps. Luckily my plants have been replaced by seedlings growing under their parent.

Flower buds survive low temperatures till they start to open. Then very low temperatures will damage them.

Daphne mezereum album winter twig

Daphne mezereum f. alba - winter twig

Mulching is important to prevent the roots from drying out. Watch for aphids. We have plenty of birds which seem to keep problem insects at bay.

Propagation: Seed, root, softwood and hardwood cuttings. I have not attempted cuttings. 

Seedex availability: Usually ORG&HPS Annual Seed Exchange

Germination Tips: Remove pulp and plant fresh outside. If dry, rub gently with sandpaper, soak in warm water. Then repeated cycles of 4°C, then 20°C for 3 months each.

(Text and images contributed by Anna Leggatt)