Historical botanical illustration of the day

Mrs Morgan's Florilegium, transit of Venus, Natalie Waddell,

Daphne mezereum is a species of Daphne and a member of the Thymelaeaceae flowering plant family, which was established in 1789 by the French botanist Laurent de Jussieu.

Native to most of Europe and Western Asia, Scandinavia and Russia, the plant’s common name is Mezereon.

The flowers are produced in early spring on the bare stems before the leaves appear. They have a four-lobed pink or light purple perianth and are strongly scented. The fruit is a bright red berry which is poisonous for people, but not to fruit-eating birds like thrushes.

Daphne mezereum is very toxic because of the daphnetoxin present especially in the berries and twigs. If poisoned, victims experience a choking sensation. Handling the fresh twigs can cause rashes and eczema in sensitive individuals.

Despite this, it is commonly grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and is indeed used in homeopathy to treat skin diseases like eczema and psoriasis – a practice that dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Indeed, the above illustration comes from the 1887 publication Köhler’s Medicinal Plants.

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