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Carolina Cherry Laurel Prunus caroliniana

Phonetic Spelling
PROO-nus kair-oh-lin-ee-AY-nah
This plant has high severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

Carolina Laurel Cherry is a small evergreen tree-like shrub to small tree that may easily grow to 35 feet tall. It has major branches spreading from ground level to crown, and becomes more tree-like with age. The leaves are alternate with a smooth or occasionally toothed margin and a pale white underside. The bark is smooth and gray to reddish brown with numerous lenticels. Some splits and fissures develop with age. In early spring, small, creamy white, 5-petaled flowers mature in 2- to 3-inch elongated clusters. The small tree produces a black drupe that matures in the fall.

The Carolina Laurel Cherry grows best in moist but well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Established plants have good drought tolerance. It can become weedy in disturbed areas on roadsides and along fencerows. It will easily put out root suckers and self-seed in the landscape. The fresh leaves of this plant have a maroshino cherry fragrance when crushed. These plants withstand heavy pruning. Trees often have bare ground below as roots are very competitive, or numerous seedling below. This species is native to the southern United States and has a rapid growth rate which causes it to become weedy and invasive in areas where one doesn't want the plant to be. This plant is often utilized as a hedge, as a foundation plant, and in mass planting. Some individuals are heavy fruiters and quite attractive. The fruit serves as a food source for birds, but birds will disperse seeds which quickly germinate. Glands on the lower surface of leaves are distinctive for Cherry Laurels, but are difficult to see on every leaf. Mature glands are dark and conspicuous. When glands are difficult to see, rotate the leaf slightly in the sun and observe a sun striking service. Dark spots on the upper portion of the leaf are fungal lesions. This plant is often confused with the English Laurel which has glands that are conspicuous, next to the midrib. 

The bark is smooth and gray to reddish brown with numerous lenticels.   Some splits and fissures develop with age.

This plant is easy to transplant, can withstand heavy pruning and is moderately salt tolerant. This plant is pH adaptable. It prefers full sun, but is tolerant of shade as long as the soil has moisture. This plant has viral and fungal disease problems and is susceptible to borers and scale.

Fire Risk: This plant has a medium flammability rating.

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems:  This plant's leaves contain high quantities of prussic acid (cyanide) and must never be eaten. Borers can be a problem particularly with trees under stress. Mites can also be a problem. 

Quick ID Hints:

  • Evergreen lustrus leaves reticulate below
  • Leaves with 2 glands on lower blade base & near margin
  • Inflorescences short, axillary racemes & white flowered
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Bright 'N' Tight'
Tags:
#fragrant#butterflies#evergreen#fruit#showy flowers#birds#wildlife plant#showy#native tree#toxic#salt tolerant#cover plant#host plant#flowering tree#host#coastal#hedges#food source#highly beneficial coastal plants#cpp#fire#medium flammability#NC native#deer resistant#naturalizes#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#fantz#cover#food source fall#butterfly
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Bright 'N' Tight'
Tags:
#fragrant#butterflies#evergreen#fruit#showy flowers#birds#wildlife plant#showy#native tree#toxic#salt tolerant#cover plant#host plant#flowering tree#host#coastal#hedges#food source#highly beneficial coastal plants#cpp#fire#medium flammability#NC native#deer resistant#naturalizes#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#fantz#cover#food source fall#butterfly
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Prunus
    Species:
    caroliniana
    Family:
    Rosaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Northern America
    Fire Risk Rating:
    medium flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    Provides winter and extreme weather cover . Host plant for Coral Hairstreak, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple, Spring/Summer Azures, and Viceroy butterflies. Adult butterflies nectar from the spring flowers. Fruits are eaten by songbirds, wild turkeys, quail, raccoons, foxes, and small mammals. White-tailed deer browse foliage.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Dimensions:
    Height: 15 ft. 0 in. - 35 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 15 ft. 0 in. - 20 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Poisonous
    Shrub
    Tree
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Pyramidal
    Rounded
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Usda Plant Hardiness Zone:
    7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Black
    Green
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Green drupes that mature lustrous, dark black, ovoid subglobose, and are less than an inch in diameter. They mature with a large pith (stone).
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Raceme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Good Cut
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The Carolina Laurel Cherry has fragrant, small white flowers (each to 5/16" across) that bloom in dense, short, axillary racemes (1" long) in late winter to early spring (February to April) and are somewhat inconspicuous amongst the leaves.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Lanceolate
    Oblong
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Leaves are 2-3" long, alternate, simple, glossy, oblong to oblong-elliptic to elliptic-lanceolate, acute, cuneate to broad cuneate, entire as adult, spinose-serrate as seedlings, and are lustrous dark green at maturity. Leaves have pointed tips. The lower surface bears a pare of small glands near the base of the blade near the margins, and are reticulate below.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Brown
    Light Gray
    Red/Burgundy
    Surface/Attachment:
    Lenticels
    Patchy
    Smooth
    Bark Description:
    The bark is smooth and gray to reddish brown with numerous lenticels. Develops gray patches and splits with age.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Lenticels:
    Conspicuous
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Naturalized Area
    Riparian
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Flowering Tree
    Foundation Planting
    Hedge
    Mass Planting
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Salt
    Problems:
    Poisonous to Humans
    Weedy
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    High
    Poison Symptoms:
    Gasping, weakness, excitement, pupil dilation, spasms, convulsions, coma, respiratory failure
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Cyanogenic glycoside, amygdalin
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Leaves
    Seeds
    Stems