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Spurge-laurel (Spurge-laurel)

Diputación de Málaga

Spurge-laurel (Spurge-laurel)

IDENTIFICATION

It is a scrub (up to 1m high) with little branches, stems with no fur and usually full of leaves only at the apical end. The leaves can be quite large (up to10 cm long), of an oval form and/or elongated, with an alternate arrangement and attached to the stem with a short petiole. They end in a rounded or soft tip, they are tough and shiny green. The flowers are grouped in axillary cluster type inflorescences (born from a bud located in the armpit or lateral of the leaf and oriented laterally) with few flowers. They are green or pale yellow, without fur and with different symmetry planes (actinomorphic). They are hermaphrodites (the flower has both sexes; it is a monoecious plant, both sexes on the same specimen), with four sepals, but without petals. The fruit is a bay (fleshy fruit with several seeds), globose, without fur and black coloured at maturity.

WHERE DOES IT LIVE?

The spurge laurel is developed in deciduous trees underwoods, most of all gall oaks, although also in mixed masses and pine forest areas. It prefers shaded places, protected from crags, preferentially in well developed calcareous substrates with enough humidity. It is a species linked to the high mountain (from 800 to 2000 meters above the sea level). 

HOW DOES IT LIVE?

Gynodioic species (specimens with hermaphrodite flowers may appear - both sexes in the same flower - and specimens only with female flowers, the latter being smaller than the previous ones). Its pollination is entomophilic (carried out by insects). It usually flourishes and bears fruit from January to May, almost simultaneously. The fruit dispersion is realized by animals (zoocoria), which eat the bays and deposit the seeds in other places thanks to their excrements.

WHERE CAN WE SEE IT IN MÁLAGA?

It is a very localized species in the Malaga province, present in two well differentiated areas, coinciding with the highest limestone mountain ranges: the Sierra de Tejada and Sierra de las Nieves. They can more scarcely appear in other pine forest areas. In the Great Path (Gran Senda), we can observe it on the stage 23.

CURIOUS FACTS

The spurge laurel (or male torvisco) is considered as  a plant both medicinal and toxic. Its common name makes reference to the fact that it looks like the rosebay's leaves, with which it also shares toxicity. It produces atoxic resin called mecereina, present in the seeds. The fruits are very toxic. It contains alkaloids (coumarin and daphnin) in the stem that are used to prepare a dye to stain the wool yellow. It has been used as a laxative, but it must be considered as a very venous plant.

SIMILAR SPECIES

It can be confused with the torvisco, another plant of the same type, but typical from cleared woods on calcareous soils. The torvisco is smaller than the spurge laurel. It has more numerous leaves, it is much more common and widely distributed and usually does not share a habitat with the spurge laurel.

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