The popular names by which this poisonous plant is known include spurge-laurel, lady-laurel, paradise plant, mystery-plant, and dwarf bay.
The mezereon is a small shrub from one to four feet high. It bears, in early spring before the leaves are out, strongly sweet-scented, rose-purple flowers clustered on the shoots of the preceding year. As it has no corolla, the brightly coloured, tubular calyx, with its four sepals outspread, lends attraction to its flowers. The leaves are long, narrow, tapering into short stalks. The fruit is a one-seeded berry or drupe, oval, one-quarter to one-third inch long, bright red. The plant is in bloom from April to May.
It is found in waste places and pastures where it has escaped from cultivation. It is locally established in Nova Scotia, western Quebec and Ontario.
All parts of mezereon are acrid and poisonous, especially the bark and berries. They contain an extremely acrid resin mezerein, a bitter poisonous glucoside daphnin, as well as a vesicating fatty oil. The bark has a persistent burning taste, and when freshly applied to the skin produces inflammation and blistering. As a rule animals reject the plant on account of its bitter taste. The abundant bright scarlet berries are very tempting to children. A fatal case of poisoning was lately reported from Nova Scotia. The following from Anne Pratt's book will show that fatalities were not rare in the Old Country.
"Death has resulted from eating but a few of these berries; and Dr. Christison relates a case of a child in Edinburgh who died from eating them, while another is recorded by Linnaeus of a young lady to whom twelve of the berries were given as a medicine in intermittent fever, and who soon died in consequence of their corrosive poison. Four berries produced thirst, sense of heat in the mouth and throat, and also fever, in a man who ate them, and they are proved to be poisonous to dogs and foxes."
Even one berry chewed but not swallowed will produce intense burning in the throat and mouth, which lasts for several hours. Drying does not destroy the potent poison of this plant.
H. C. Long says:' - ■
"The Daphnes are severely purgative, cause burning in the mouth and throat, and in severe cases have narcotic effects and give rise to-convulsions. Lauder gives the symptoms as intense colic, constipation, followed by dysentery and copious evacuations of faeces streaked with mucus, blood and intestinal epithelium. Drowsiness between the spasms. According to Mueller there is inflammation of the stomach and intestines (with colic, vomiting, severe diarrhoea, passing of blood), inflammation of the kidneys (with strangury, bloody urination), and in many cases nervous symptoms (weakness, giddiness, and convulsions).
In a case observed by Lander, in the horse, there was abdominal pain, staggering gait, anxious countenance, laboured breathing, pulse 80, temperature 103.2° F., bowels normal. On the following day there was excessive purgation, pulse 120, temperature 104.2° F., and death occurred at mid-day."
Remedy: - In the case of human poisoning an emetic may be given, followed by a soothing drink such as rice water, barley water, iced-milk, or white of egg beaten up in cold water while waiting for medical advice, which should be promptly summoned.