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Invasive Plant: Spurge Laurel

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Photo shows a hillside with green plants and rock walls
Spurge laurel, a broadleaf shrub, was introduced as an ornamental plant to the Pacific Northwest and now is invasive. The berries, leaves, and bark are poisonous if eaten. The sap can cause rashes and swelling, and the fumes can make it hard to breathe. Be prepared if you handle this plant.
On this page

Report patches of this plant? No.

If it’s on your property, find information below on how and when to remove it.

At a Glance

  • Scientific name:Daphne laureola
  • Annual, perennial, biennial or evergreen? Year-round evergreen
  • Conditions it likes best: Likes both sun and shade, but does very well in shady forested areas
  • How it spreads: Birds and small mammals can eat spurge laurel fruits and spread seeds into natural areas.
  • How it causes damage: Forms dense thickets and takes the light and nutrients native plants need. When those plants can’t survive, animals can’t survive either.
  • Best time and way to manage: It’s best to remove plants before berries ripen and when the ground is wet (late winter/early spring).
  • Oregon Department of Agriculture noxious weed rank: B

How to Identify Spurge Laurel

Photo shows evergreen plant with tiny yellow flowers.
The berries, leaves, and bark or spurge laurel are poisonous if eaten. For some people, the sap can cause rashes and swelling, and the fumes can make it hard to breathe. Use caution if you handle this plant. Be prepared and wear gloves, long-sleeved shirt, and pants.

Spurge laurel is evergreen, broadleaved, and grows to up to 5 feet tall. Leaves are thick and waxy and grow in dense spirals. Older leaves are dark green, but newer growth can be a lighter yellow-green. Stems have no leaves on them except the ones on the end and are green to grayish green.

Winter–Spring. Spurge laurel flowers from January to March. Flowers are small, green, and in clusters of 5-20, growing under and between the leaves. Berries are one quarter-inch long and egg-shaped. They are green in February but turn purple-black in March or April.

Summer. Black berries drop on the ground or are taken by birds.

Fall. Plants keep their leaves all year.

How and When to Remove Spurge Laurel

Use caution and wear gloves. Ingestion of plants could cause health problems such as sickness and may require medical treatment. Contact with plant parts may cause severe skin irritation for sensitive individuals.

Photo shows green plant with dark purple berries.
Cut off berries, bag them, and put them in the trash before starting to pull or dig up plants.
  • Manual.
    • Wear clothes that cover all skin that may touch spurge laurel sap, stems, or roots.
    • If plants have berries, carefully cut them off and put them in the trash before digging up the rest of the plant.
    • Pull or dig up spurge laurel and be sure to get the top few inches of the root.
  • Herbicide. In many cases, certain herbicides have been effective in eradicating spurge laurel. Site conditions may affect how quickly plants die.
  • Check. Check the site for new plants at least once a year and especially for the first 2-3 years after removal. Spurge laurel root fragments may continue to grow and produce new plants.
  • Replant. After a year or two of managing this plant, consider planting native or less aggressive non-native plants.

Prevention is Best Practice

Clean your boots, pets, and maybe even your tires when you finish a hike or trail ride in Pacific Northwest natural areas, or if you have invasive plants on your own property. Cleaning boots and pets keeps invasive plants from spreading to new places. Be careful when trading plants with neighbors and fellow gardeners to make sure you’re not trading this or any other plant of concern.

Be Aware of Look-alikes

Spurge laurel is most often confused with rhododendron. Rhododendron fruits and large, pretty flowers are found above the leaves, but spurge laurel hides fruits and small, yellow-green flowers under its leaves. Some species of leafy spurges may also be confused with spurge laurel, but leafy spurges have a thick white sap that spurge laurel does not.

Properly Dispose of Invasive Plants

To prevent spreading invasive plants:

  • Never place plants or seeds in your compost or yard debris.
  • Never throw pulled plants on the ground or into the street or sidewalk.
  • Put all pulled plants, bulbs, or seeds into a plastic bag and put the bag in the trash.
  • Wash all garden tools and gloves.

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