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Daphne laureola, or spurge laurel is a plant commonly found in the wild in Britain and Ireland. The shrub that I have in my Belfast town garden is a self seeded seedling found in the garden of the family house in Newcastle, Co. Down.

A mature plant is three to four feet in height and about the same in width. It is evergreen, with long leathery leaves occurring in a rosette formation at the end of stems. The leaves vary in colour from glossy dark green when grown in shade, to a more yellowy green when grown in sun. The flowers which occur in February and March are tubular and are a waxy pale lemon green. They are borne in clusters high up on the plant, just below the rosette forming foliage. Its preferred growing conditions are in semi to partial shade, almost in an edge of deciduous woodland location. The parent plant of the seedling found in the Newcastle garden grows wild at the edge of a field under the canopy of a large native cherry tree which provides ample shade in summer.

A young plant sulks if moved, the root system seeming to be more taproot like than fibrous. In this regard it behaves like young Eschsholzia californica seedlings, seeming to give up the ghost if inconvenienced by relocation. If it drops its leaves after being moved it should reshoot from along the main stem if the move has been to a moist and shady spot.

Although a decent shape and evergreen, the main attraction of the plant for me is its perfume, which is subtly released when in flower in February. It is a delicate, musky, honey scent, slightly heavier than that of double snowdrops which flower at the same time. It is also reminiscent of, though not nearly so overpowering as, the scent of Turks Cap lilies.

To appreciate the scent, you have to be very close to the plant, and this is perhaps its charm, a hidden secret which it will share with you if passing by the plant on an unexpectedly mild and damp February day. An added bonus are the strange black ovoid berries (almost olive shaped) which occur in August, proof that the first stirring of spring is in earliest February, when insects are drawn to pollinate this understated plant.

Copyright A Walsh 2002-2007