Cherry laurel can refer to two species. Prunus caroliniana, or Carolina cherry laurel, is a large shrub or small evergreen tree that grows in woodlands, thickets and fields from coastal North Carolina to east Texas, while Prunus laurocerasus or common cherry laurel is a fast-growing evergreen shrub popular in the southern United States. The two species have similar characteristics.
English Cherry Laurel
English laurels or common cherry laurels are native to Asia Minor. They grow between 10 and 18 inches tall with a 25- to 30-foot spread. They have rounded forms, smooth reddish-brown bark and oval-shaped, dark-green leaves with slightly serrated edges. The leaves grow as long as 7 inches depending on the plant. Common cherry laurels produce 2- to 5-inch-long racemes, or elongated clusters, of fragrant white blossoms during the spring. Half-inch-long black fruits replace the flowers.
Carolina Cherry Laurel
Carolina cherry laurels grow approximately 20 to 40 feet tall with a 15- to 20-foot spread. Younger specimens have a pyramidal form, but they become more rounded as they mature. They have simple, alternate, oval-shaped green leaves with smooth margins. The leaves and stems emit a smell reminiscent of maraschino cherries when crushed. The evergreen foliage retains its color during the fall and winter. The plants produce showy clusters of small white blossoms during the spring, followed by small, round black fruits.
Common cherry laurels are commercially available in several cultivars. Zabeliana grows approximately 5 to 6 feet tall and has narrow leaves, while Otto Luyken, a small variety, only grows between 3 and 4 feet tall. Schipka laurel grows between 4 and 5 feet tall with a 5- to 8-foot spread. Carolina cherry laurels are available in the Compacta form, which has a dense form and grows around 20 feet tall, and Bright N' Tight, which grows between 8 and 10 feet tall.
Cultivation and Use
Carolina cherry laurels are cold-hardy in United States Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 7 through 10, while common cherries are hardy to Zone 6. Both species prefer well-drained moist soil with full sunlight or partial shade. Common cherry laurels have few pest problems, but borer insects attack stressed Carolina cherries. Root rot infections can damage plants that grow in soggy or poorly-drained soils. They both work well as hedges, screens and specimen plants.
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Prunus Caroliniana
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Laurel; Marjan Kluepfel and Bob Polomski; May 1999
- University of Connecticut: Prunus Laurocerasus
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Prunus Caroliniana -- Cherry-Laurel; Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson; November 1993
- North Carolina State University: Prunus Caroliniana
- Monrovia: Bright N' Tight Carolina Laurel