Prunus lusitanica

Prunus lusitanica

Prunus lusitanica (common name Portugal laurel) is a species of cherry, native to southwestern France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and Macaronesia (the Azores, Canary Islands and Madeira).

It is an evergreen shrub or small tree growing to 3-15 m tall. The bark is blackish-brown, The leaves are alternate, oval, 7–12 cm long and 3–5 cm broad, with an acute apex and a dentate margin, glossy dark green above, lighter below. They superficially resemble those of the Bay Laurel, which accounts for its often being mistaken for one. The flowers are small (10-15 mm diameter) with five small white petals; they are produced on erect or spreading spikes 15–25 cm long in late spring. The fruit is a small cherry-like drupe 8–13 mm in diameter, green or reddish green at first, turning dark purple or black when ripe in late summer or early autumn.

It is rare in the wild, occurring mainly along mountain streams, preferring sunshine and moist but well-drained soils. It is moderately drought-tolerant. It reproduces either sexually (the most successful method) or asexually by cloning from shoots.

Three subspecies are accepted:

  • Prunus lusitanica subsp. lusitanica. Mainland Europe.
  • Prunus lusitanica subsp. azorica (Mouill.) Franco. Azores.
  • Prunus lusitanica subsp. hixa (Willd.) Franco. Canary Islands, Madeira, Morocco.

The species was first scientifically described by Linnaeus in Species Plantarum in 1753. Its specific epithet lusitanica means of Lusitania, the Roman name for Portugal.

Cultivation and uses

It is widely grown as an ornamental shrub and is used as a hedge plant. The fruit is very bitter and inedible (doubtfully edible if fully ripe), and may be toxic.

It is introduced and locally naturalised in the temperate zone in northern France, Great Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, and the western United States in California, Oregon and Washington.


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