english laurel

Prunus laurocerasus

Prunus laurocerasus (common name Cherry laurel and sometimes called English laurel in North America) is a species in the genus Prunus, native to regions bordering the Black Sea in southwestern Asia and southeastern Europe, from Albania and Bulgaria east through Turkey to the Caucasus Mountains and northern Iran.

It is an evergreen shrub or small tree, growing to 5-15 m tall, rarely to 18 m tall, with a trunk up to 60 cm diameter. The leaves are dark green, leathery, shiny, (5–)10–25(–30) cm long and 4-10 cm broad, with a finely serrated margin. The flower buds appear in early spring and open in early summer in erect 7-15 cm racemes of 30–40 flowers, each flower 1 cm diameter, with five creamy-white petals and numerous yellowish stamens. The fruit is a small cherry 1-2 cm diameter, turning black when ripe in early autumn.

The common name "cherry laurel" refers to the similarity of foliage and appearance to the true laurel, Laurus nobilis (Lauraceae). However, the two plants are in different families and are unrelated.

Cultivation and uses

Prunus laurocerasus has been widely planted as an ornamental plant in temperate regions worldwide, and has become naturalised widely in some areas. It is often used for screening, and also as a mass landscape and ground cover plant. Most forms are tough shrubs that can cope with difficult growing conditions (including shaded and dry conditions), and which respond well to pruning. The foliage is also used for cut greenery in floristry.

Over 40 cultivars have been selected, including:

  • 'Aureovariegata' – variegated, leaves with a yellow margin.
  • 'Magnifolia' – vigorous, with large leaves up to 30 cm long and 11 cm broad.
  • 'Otto Luyken' – semi-dwarf, with small leaves 10 cm long and 2–3 cm broad.
  • 'Zabeliana' – selected for winter cold tolerance.

Unlike the rest of the plant, which is poisonous, the cherries are edible, although rather bland and with a somewhat astringent flavour compared to the fruit of apricots, true cherries, plums, and peaches, to which it is related. The seeds contained within the berries are poisonous like the rest of the plant, containing cyanogenic glycosides and amygdalin. This chemical composition is what gives the smell of almonds when the leaves are crushed.

Laurel water, a distillation made from the plant, has a pharmacological usage.

Invasive potential

In some regions such as the Pacific Northwest of the United States, this species is an invasive plant. Its rapid growth, coupled with its evergreen habit and its tolerance of drought and shade, often allow it to out-compete and kill off native plant species. This reduces the overall diversity of ecosystems and impacts other plants and animals that live there negatively. It is also difficult to control once it has naturalised, because some species of birds eat the fruits and spread the seeds in their droppings.


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