Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana) is an attractive small evergreen tree or large shrub that may grow up to 40 feet tall, boasting glossy leaves, fragrant flowers and bluish-black fruits that are cherished by birds. Along with other members of the cherry genus, Carolina cherry laurel is considered toxic to dogs. It is also severely toxic to humans if ingested.
The stems, leaves and seeds of Carolina cherry laurel contain cyanogenic glycosides that are toxic to dogs, cats and horses, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If ingested, your dog may exhibit bright red mucous membranes and dilated pupils. Your dog may pant, struggle to breath or seem to be in shock. If you think your dog has ingested any part of the plant, contact your veterinarian or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. A consultation fee may apply.
Carolina cherry laurel is very dangerous if ingested by humans. Wilted leaves are particularly potent. North Carolina State University warns that the plant is highly toxic and may be fatal if eaten. Symptoms of poisoning in humans may included dilated pupils, excitement, gasping and weakness. In severe cases, the individual may go into a coma or have spasms, convulsions or respiratory failure. Seek immediate medical attention if you or someone else has eaten any part of the plant.
A native of North America, Carolina cherry laurel occurs naturally in disturbed areas, along roadsides and fences and in maritime forests. As a landscape plant, Carolina cherry laurel is suitable for U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8a to 10a, where it makes for a sturdy hedge or shade tree. It prefers full sunlight, though it will tolerate some shade. Carolina cherry laurel is not a suitable landscape plant for playgrounds or areas frequented by livestock or horses. Warn children not to sample the shiny black berries.
The adaptable Carolina cherry laurel is tolerant of drought and salt, though borers may attack shrubs that are extremely water stressed. The shrub prefers well-draining, average soil and is not picky about pH, growing even in high pH soil. Excessive irrigation or heavy clay soils may lead to chlorosis, a yellowing of the leaves that can be fatal if left untreated. Carolina cherry laurel drops a lot of fruit and can create a mess near walkways.
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