This week’s invasive plant, spurge laurel, is neither a spurge nor a laurel, and it can be mistaken for a rhododendron or a Euphorbia. How’s that for an identity crisis?
Spurge laurel is in fact a Daphne, a group of plants that are known for having scented flowers and poisonous berries. Unlike the popular Daphne odora, which is not invasive in Portland, spurge laurel is on the list of invasive species we’re working to contain. It’s toxic, it takes over our native forests, and it’s hard to get rid of.
Why talk about invasive plants now, when it’s frosty outside? Because spurge laurel season is coming up, and we need your help!
The plant grows in thickets and out-competes native vegetation in the forest understory in the Pacific Northwest. This harms our water quality and native habitat. Spurge laurel is primarily spread by birds and rodents which consume the berries. Most of the plant parts are toxic and extra caution should be taken when attempting to remove this plant. Skin exposure to spurge laurel can cause a rash, and swallowing berries can cause poisoning especially among small children, cats and dogs.
Spurge laurel blooms in January and February, so keep an eye out for this plant soon. The flowers have a bitter fragrance, are yellow-green in color, and are located under the leaves of the plant. By March, berries will form. They will turn from pale green to black by early summer. The plant tends to grow in clumps that are 3 to 5 feet tall. Many plants in Portland look similar to spurge laurel, including Mediterranean spurge, winter daphne, and some rhododendrons. The flowers are the easiest way to see the difference.
Digging up the plant is the best way to control spurge laurel. Late winter is a good time, before the berries can spread. Digging up the plant after it rains makes the job easier. All parts of the root need to be removed to limit re-growth, and the area should be checked at least once a year to remove any new seedlings. Berries should be placed in the trash and the remainder of the plant can be placed in your yard waste bin. Land owners can contact Environmental Services with any additional questions.
Visit this page for more information about spurge laurel. The East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District also has information available.
That's a truck full of spurge laurel!
City invasive species program staff manage the spread of this plant in Portland's natural areas to protect water quality and native forests.
Check out our other Alien Plant Invader posts:
Invasive species affect us all. They damage our forests, streams and rivers, and property. Nationwide, damages associated with invasive species are estimated to be $120 billion each year. In Oregon, the control of invasive weeds and the cost of the damages they create amounts to about $125 million each year. We know that it costs a lot less to control new invasive plants before they become infestations, so we need everyone’s help. Find out more about the problems caused by invasive species and why Environmental Services works to stop their spread.