The taxonomic history of Prunus is long and complicated, in part due to the economic value of its fruit crops and also the ease with which some species hybridize. Here, Prunus is circumscribed in its broad sense based on the argument that when viewed on a worldwide scale, the morphologic discontinuities among the segregate genera diminish and they overlap with one another. Included here are species that have at times been placed in the genera Amygdalus, Armeniaca, Cerasus, Laurocerasus, Padus, and Persica.
At the species level, Prunus has been the object of the usual combining and splitting common among taxonomists with different philosophies and opinions. In particular, over-reliance on the indument of various vegetative and floral parts has led to the naming of numerous species and infraspecific taxa. Similarly, too much has been made of fruit colour and palatability in naming taxa of Prunus. It is very likely that, as molecular and genetic data are analyzed and, more importantly, correlated with morphological data, circumscriptions will be redrawn and the number of Prunus species will be reduced[
Padus caroliniana Mill.
Laurocerasus caroliniana (Miller) M.Roem.
Bumelia serrata Pursh
Chimanthus amygdalina Raf.
Prunus lusitanica Walter
Common Name: American Cherry Laurel
Prunus caroliniana is an evergreen shrub or a small tree; it can grow from 4 - 12 metres tall.
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and source of materials. It is often grown as an ornamental in gardens, where it can be used as a hedge and shelterbelt.
The plant (especially the seed and young shoots) contains cyanogenic glycosides, especially amygdalin and prunasin. When injested, these compounds break down in the digestive tract to release cyanide. Used in small quantities in both traditional and conventional medicine, this exceedingly poisonous compound has been shown to stimulate respiration, improve digestion, and promote a sense of well-being[
]. It is also claimed by some to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer - though this claim has been largely refuted.
In larger concentrations, however, cyanide can cause gasping, weakness, excitement, pupil dilation, spasms, convulsions, coma and respiratory failure leading to death[
The fruits and flowers of most members of this genus generally have low or very low concentrations of this toxin, though the seeds and young shoots can contain much higher levels.
The levels of toxin can be detected by the level of bitterness:- for example sweet tasting almond seeds are a major food crop and are often eaten in quantity, whilst bitter tasting almond seeds are used as a flavouring (in marzipan for example) but are not usually eaten on their own.
In general, it can be considered safe to eat any fruit or seed from species in this genus that either have a sweet flavour or are slightly bitter. Great caution should be taken, however, if the flavour is moderately to very bitter[
South-eastern N. America - Arkansas to North Carolina, south to Texas and Florida
Deep, well-drained rich moist bottomlands, bluffs or streambanks[
]. Stream bottoms, thickets, wooded uplands, maritime forests, naturalizing in urban woodlands; at elevations up to 200 metres[
|Other Uses Rating||
|Cultivation Status||Ornamental, Wild
There are conflicting reports regarding the hardiness of Prunus caroliniana. In one, the species is said to be tender outside of the mildest areas of the temperate zone, tolerating occasional, short-lived temperatures down to around -5°c[
]. Another says that it succeeds in climatic zone 7, tolerating temperatures down to about -15°c for short periods[
]. Since the range of this species is from the subtropical state of Florida north to Arkansas and North Carolina, it quite probably depends upon the provenance of the plant as to how cold tolerant it may be[
Requires a well-drained moisture retentive soil[
]. Succeeds in a hot dry position. Succeeds in light shade but fruits better in a sunny position[
]. Thrives in a loamy soil, doing well on limestone[
]. Prefers some chalk in the soil but apt to become chlorotic if too much is present[
]. Fairly wind-resistant[
Prunus caroliniana is a popular ornamental for screens and trimmed hedges and is widely planted in the southeastern United States because of its lustrous, dark green foliage persistent through the seasons. The species was probably common as a native plant on the southeastern barrier islands; most inland occurrences represent escapes from cultivation[
A fast-growing but short-lived tree[
Most members of this genus are shallow-rooted and will produce suckers if the roots are damaged[
Plants in this genus are notably susceptible to honey fungus[
The fruit might be edible[
]. It has a thick skin and a thin dry flesh[
] and is not edible[
]. It is slightly toxic to humans[
]. The black, ovoid fruit is about 9 - 13mm in diameter and contains one large seed[
Seed - raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter - see the notes above on toxicity.
Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being[
Amenable to trimming, this plant can be grown as a screen and hedge[
]. It can also be used in shelterbelt plantings[
A green dye can be obtained from the leaves[
A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit[
The wood is hard, heavy, strong, close grained[
]. Of good quality, though the trees are seldom large enough for the wood to be exploited commercially[
Seed - requires 2 - 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe[
]. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible[
]. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate[
]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year.
Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, mid summer in a frame[
Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame[
Layering in spring.