What Is Daphne Sudden Death Syndrome?

Daphne is a beautiful plant. It has a lot to offer, with highly fragrant blooms that appear in the spring or winter, depending on the variety. However, it can be challenging to grow daphne, in part because of daphne sudden death syndrome. 

Daphne sudden death syndrome causes daphne to die without any warning and is caused by fungal pathogens.

Don’t let this intimidate you. Many people have lots of success growing daphne. It is important to know what you are getting into, however. 

Daphne Basics 

Daphne has over 70 cultivators, which are native to Africa, Europe, and Asia. They are broadleaf evergreen shrubs. They produce white or light pink flowers. Once done blooming, they produce small red berries known as drupes. 

They are evergreen. Depending on the species and climate, they may bloom in early winter, when other plants are dormant. 

Some cultivators are hardy up to zone 4 and down to 9, but they will lose their leaves in cold climates. In a warmer zone, they will keep their light green leaves all year round. 

It can take 7 to 10 years for daphne to reach full maturity. Unfortunately, many daphne plants don’t survive this long.  The plant is toxic to humans and pets, particularly the berries. 

They need partial shade and prefer to keep their roots cool. This can be accomplished by adding mulch to the top layer of soil. However, you should avoid mulching around the stems. 

They need moist but well-draining soil. They prefer it to be slightly acidic. 

Daphne Sudden Death Syndrome

As the name suggests, this disease causes daphne to die without warning.

It’s caused by fungal pathogens within the soil. Unlike root rot, which shows signs of trouble and can be treated if caught early and affects other plants like Calathea and Majesty Palm, daphne sudden death syndrome occurs seemingly out of the blue. 

Preventing Daphne Sudden Death Syndrome

There is no way to completely prevent daphne sudden death syndrome, other than choosing a resistant cultivator. However, there are ways to reduce the risk. 

Plant daphne in well-draining soil. It’s best if it provides partial shade. Do not disturb daphne’s roots unless it’s unavoidable. Many plant owners find it helpful to plant the daphne under an oak or other large deciduous tree. This provides some shade for the roots while still allowing adequate sunlight. 

Sudden Death Resistant Cultivators

There are a few cultivators that are resistant to sudden death syndrome. These are daphne tangutica and daphne retusa. These varieties are not susceptible to sudden death syndrome, which can make them a better choice for your garden. 

Sudden death syndrome is more common in areas with hot humid weather. This combination allows the fungi to thrive, and attack the plant. 

Daphne Tangutica

Daphne tangutica grows to 3 feet by 3 feet when fully mature. It begins blooming with purple-black flower buds. They open in mid-spring, revealing white flowers tinged with violet. The leaves are small and forest green. 

The scent is not as strong as daphne odora. Instead, it smells like a light Indian incense. It can tolerate drought to a degree, once it’s established. It is slow-growing and requires little pruning. 

Daphne retusa

This daphne is perfect for rock gardens. Its mature height is 18 inches by 24 inches, making it smaller than most daphne species. 

It has dark green glossy leaves. These lend it a feeling of strength and sturdiness. However, when its clusters of blooms in the spring, the flowers are surprisingly delicate. 

The flowers are two-toned. The outside is pink, while the inside is white.  It also has a strong fragrance. In the summer, it produces orange fruits. These can add color to your garden. Just don’t forget that they are toxic to eat. 

A white daphne

Other Daphne Problems

Daphne sudden death syndrome is certainly the most dramatic problem you may encounter when growing the shrub, but it’s far from the only one. 

Once daphne is well established, it’s relatively easy to care for. However, it can be temperamental. It dislikes sudden environmental changes, full sun, being grown in pots, and overwatering. 

Full Sun 

Full sun can burn the daphne’s leaves. It may lose some or all of its leaves, and become unhealthy or wilted. Daphne should be grown in partial shade, particularly in warm climates where there are lots of strong sun rays. 

In addition to partial shade, place mulch around the plant 2 to 3 inches deep. This will keep the roots cool during the warmer months. Be careful not to place mulch around the stem of the plant. 

Container Growing 

Daphne needs room for its sprawling roots, which makes it difficult to grow in containers. If you do choose to grow it in a container, be sure that there’s plenty of space for the daphne’s roots. 

The pot should also have adequate drainage. Daphne is susceptible to root rot, like a lot of other plants.


You don’t need to water daphne often. If it’s getting a lot of suns, it will require occasional watering. If it’s in a shady area, it should only require watering rarely. Ironically, the less you water it, the more blooms you’ll see. 

You should also ensure that the soil is well-draining. If the soil is heavy, add perlite to aid with drainage. 

Final Thoughts on Daphne Sudden Death Syndrome 

If you choose to grow daphne, particularly a type that isn’t resistant to sudden death syndrome, you’ll need to be prepared. Daphne can die unexpectedly. 

However, it’s still well worth growing. Just don’t expect your daphne to last for many years. If you view it as something to enjoy for a few years, you won’t be disappointed if it dies. If it doesn’t, you are happily surprised. 

Remember that providing partial shade and allowing the roots to stay cool and settled reduce the chances of sudden death syndrome. 

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About Me

Hi, I'm Joe! I'm the head of SEO and content management at Bloom and Bumble. I'm a huge plant lover and over the years my home has become more like an indoor rainforest. It has taken a lot of trial and error to keep my plants healthy and so I'm here to share my knowledge to the rest of the world.

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