Mezereum – Spring’s Colorful Gift

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The phenologists of the Prioksko-Terrasny Reserve register the beginning of mezereum flowering period.This bush is also called daphne. Everyone, who has ever visited a spring forest, knows these tenders pink flowers covering the thin branches with pale bark. In the temperate part of Russia mezereum is the first to flower. Sometimes one goes in the forest, where no trees or bushes have leaves, water and mud squelches under the feet, last snow still lies in the creeks, it smells with rotten leaves, and suddenly one feels the fragrance of a lilac. Mezereum has a tender smell. This plant had always attracted Russian writers, who praised the beauty of our nature.

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“Have you ever seen this fairy tale leafless small plant, covered in flowers? Sometimes in early spring, during heather cock courtship, I stop in the woods and search for it – a tiny tree flowers near a creek, full of spring water. The forest is still sleeping, not all the birds came after wintering and the reviving soil is still covered with old leaves. Some rare snowdrops can be seen. And still, this marvelous tree is in full flower! It takes a while to admire these pink and lilac flowers, as if made of wax”, wrote I.S. Sokolov-Mikitov in his short novel “The Mezereum”.

Mezereum is a cruel plant. There are Russian names for it, which can be translated as lethal daphne or wild pepper. All parts of this plant are poisonous – branches, flowers, leaves and bright red autumn berries. If you try it, an unpleasant burning pain will fill your mouth, which may turn into a serious intoxication. It is dangerous even to touch its wet bark or its juice, which results in dermatitis symptoms. Inhaled bark dust leads to irritation of pharynx and larynx. In case of eye contact it leads to conjunctiva irritation. Meanwhile, birds seem to pay no attention to its poisonous properties and eat the bright red berries of this plant with no harm. This plant can be found everywhere from Europe to Japan. People say, that on Hokkaido juice of this plant was used to moisten the harpoons for walrus hunt.

Mezereum is not rare in our forests, but its colorful early flowers became the reason for ruthless extermination of this plant. So today this gift of the nature may become a rarity.