Prunus laurocerasus L.

cherry laurel, laurel cherry, Versailles laurel
Rosaceae
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HermaphroditeMedicinalToxic


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Prunus laurocerasus
Elena Torres & Santiago Moreno
Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

Prunus laurocerasus: Appearance of the shrub all year round; its square shape is due to pruning

Appearance of the shrub all year round; its square shape is due to pruningBranch with 10-14 cm-long leaves that are leathery and glossy aboveDetailed view of the abaxial side of 2 leaves, with brown glands on either side of the midribBranch with many flowers arranged in a showy erect  racemiform cyme Branch with many inmature drupes (they become blackish as they mature)
Etymology

Prunus: Ancient Latin name for plum tree (Prunus domestica L.)

laurocerasus: from laurus = laurel and cerasus = cherry, because its leaves are very similar to those of the laurel or sweet bay (Laurus nobilis L.) and its fruits are very similar to cherries (Prunus avium L.)

Description

Habit: Evergreen shrub or small tree up to 8-10 m tall (although it is usually kept much lower in cultivation).

Leaves: alternate, persistent, 10-20 cm long, simple, with small stipules, linear, deciduous, with a short petiole 0-5-1 cm long; blade 2.5-7.5 cm wide, elliptic to oblong, finely crenate or serrate with ± remote teeth, leathery, glossy adaxially, with 2-6 abaxial glands near the base and on either side of the midrib.

Flowers: hermaphrodite, actinomorphic, ± 1 cm in diam., pentamerous, perigynous, arranged in raceme-shaped cymes 5-10 cm long, generally shorter than the leaves, erect, axillary; calyx polysepalous; petals 5, free, 3-5 mm long, obovate, white; stamens numerous; gynoecium unicarpellous, glabrous, with a half-inferior ovary.

Fruit: ovoid to subglobose apiculate drupe 1-1.5 cm in diam., purple to blackish, glossy, non-glaucous.

Phenology

The individuals growing on this campus are regularly pruned, so they are not likely to show flowers or fruits.

Geographic origin

Native to SE Europe and W Asia.

Observations

It is often cultivated as an ornamental for its leaves, large and glossy, which remain on the tree all year round. It tolerates pruning so it is often clipped into formal topiary shapes (similar to the specimens on this campus). It is a toxic plant because of the cyanogenic glycosides it contains, which give its leaves the caracteristic smell of bitter almonds when crushed. However, it has medicinal uses: fresh leaves are used to prepare cherry laurel distilled water; this water is used to flavour food and beverages and as a respiratory stimulant and an antispasmodic for treating cough in bronchopulmonary diseases.

It is propagated from softwood cuttings or seeds or by grafting.

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