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Prunus laurocerasus, also known as cherry laurel, common laurel and sometimes English laurel in North America, is an evergreen species of cherry (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.
The common names of P. laurocerasus refer to the similarity of foliage and appearance to bay laurel (Laurus nobilis, the true laurel, in the Lauraceae family), and like the bay laurel, Prunus laurocerasus was used for making laurel wreaths, but the two plants are unrelated. It is not to be confused with its American relative Prunus caroliniana, which is also called cherry laurel.
Prunus laurocerasus is an evergreen shrub or small to medium-sized tree, growing to 5 to 15 metres (16 to 49 ft) tall, rarely to 18 metres (59 ft), with a trunk up to 60cm broad. The leaves are dark green, leathery, shiny, (5–)10–25(–30)cm long and 4–10cm broad, with a finely serrated margin. The leaves can have the scent of almonds when crushed. The flower buds appear in early spring and open in early summer in erect 7–15cm racemes of 30–40 flowers, each flower 1cm across, with five creamy-white petals and numerous yellowish stamens. The fruit is a small cherry 1–2cm broad, turning black when ripe in early autumn.
Prunus laurocerasus is a widely cultivated ornamental plant, used for planting in gardens and parks in temperate regions worldwide. It is often used for hedges, as a screening plant, and as a massed landscape plant. Most cultivars are tough shrubs that can cope with difficult growing conditions, including shaded and dry conditions, and which respond well to pruning.
- 'Aureovariegata', variegated, leaves with a yellow margin
- 'Magnifolia', vigorous, with great leaves up to 30-cm wide and 11-cm broad
- 'Otto Luyken' (named after Otto Luyken), half-dwarf, with small leaves 10-cm wide and 2–3-cm broad
- 'Zabeliana', selected for winter cold tolerance
It has become naturalised widely. In some regions (such as the United Kingdom and the Pacific Northwest of North America), this species can be 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. It is spread by birds, through the seeds in their droppings.
The seed of the fruit may cause severe discomfort to humans if ingested. The seeds contained within the cherries 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.
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