Native to regions bordering the Black Sea in south western Asia and south eastern Europe, from Albania and Bulgaria east through Turkey to the Caucasus Mountains and northern Iran.
It is an evergreen shrub or small tree, growing to 5 - 15m tall, rarely to 18m tall, with a trunk up to 60 cm diameter. The leaves are dark green, leathery, shiny, with a finely serrated margin. The flower buds appear in early spring and open in early summer in erect 7 - 15cm racemes of 30 – 40 flowers, each flower 1 cm diameter, with five creamy-white petals and numerous yellowish stamens. The fruit is a small cherry 1 - 2 cm diameter, turning black when ripe in early autumn.
Prunus laurocerasus is often called 'laurel' because of the similarity of foliage and appearance to the true laurel, Laurus nobilis. However, the two plants are not related.
Cultivation and uses
Prunus laurocerasus has been widely planted as an ornamental plant in temperate regions worldwide, and has become naturalised widely in some areas. It is often used for screening, and also as a mass landscape and ground cover plant. Most forms are tough shrubs that can cope with difficult growing conditions (including shaded and dry conditions), and which respond well to pruning. The foliage is also used for cut greenery in floristry.
Unlike the rest of the plant, which is poisonous, the cherries are edible, although rather bland and with a somewhat astringent flavour compared to the fruit of apricots, true cherries, plums, and peaches, to which it is related. The seeds contained within the berries are poisonous like the rest of the plant, containing cyanogenic glycosides and amygdalin. This chemical composition is what gives the smell of almonds when the leaves are crushed.