815 Prunus laurocerasusCommon Names: English laurel, cherry laurel Family: Rosaceae (rose Family)
English laurel is a dense and bushy wide spreading evergreen shrub or small tree. It can get as big as 30 ft (9.1 m) tall with an even larger spread. Most cultivars stay much smaller, though. English laurel has shiny oblong leaves 3-6 in (7.6-15.2 cm) long that are dark green on top and pale underneath. In late spring it bears fragrant creamy white flowers in upright racemes 3-6 (7.6-15.2 cm) long. [A "raceme" is an inflorescence with stalked flowers which radiate off a single unbranched stem. If the flower stalks were branched the inflorescence would be called a "panicle", and if the flowers didn't have stalks at all, it would be a "spike."] The individual flowers are cup shaped with 5 petals and are almost a half-inch across. The fruits are 1/2 in (1.3 cm) cherrylike drupes that ripen to dark purple.
There are more than 40 named cultivars selected for leaf shape, growth form, and flowering characteristics. 'Camelliifolia' has conspicuously twisted leaves. 'Marbled White' has leaves with white mottling. 'Otto Luyken' has small leaves and gets 3 ft (0.9 m) tall with a 5 ft (1.5 m) spread; it tolerates deep shade. 'Zabeliana' is a low, wide-spreading shrub to 3 ft (0.9 m) tall and 8 ft (2.4 m) wide or more; it has narrow, willow-like leaves and often flowers a second time in autumn.
English laurel, Prunus laurocerasus, is native to SE Europe and SW Asia. It has been grown as a hedge and ornamental garden shrub in Europe for more than 400 years.
CultureEnglish laurel grows best on a slightly acidic soil. Prune after flowering. Shearing for hedge growth results in unsightly mutilated leaves; it's best to prune individual branches. This is a fast growing shrub under ideal conditions, and if not clipped some of the cultivars will grow to tree stature. Light: Full sun to shade. English laurel is quite tolerant of shade. It does best with more shade in hot climates and more sun in colder areas. Some of the cultivars are tolerant of deep shade. Moisture: Provide regular garden watering; English laurel is not considered drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 9. Hardiness varies among cultivars. Propagation: Root semi-hardwood cuttings in summer with bottom heat.
English laurel is a popular specimen shrub, especially in Europe, the British Isles and on the American West Coast. It is often used in groupings. English laurel responds very well to pruning and is therefore widely used as a hedge. It is evergreen and dense enough to make a suitable screen. English laurel does well in the shade and is tolerant of salt spray and coastal conditions. The dark green foliage is dense and attractive year round and the flowers, although perhaps too sweet-smelling, are especially showy against the glossy foliage.
The common and botanical names reflect the English laurel's superficial resemblance to the true laurel, or bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), an unrelated tree in the Lauraceae whose leaves are used as a spice.
There are more than 300 species of plums and cherries (genus Prunus). P. caroliniana, from the eastern U.S., is very similar to P. laurocerasus, and is also called cherry laurel. Other well known Prunus are plums, apricots, almonds, peaches, nectarines, cherries and flowering cherries.
The foliage may be toxic to livestock.
Steve Christman 10/5/00; updated 2/4/04