Encyclopedia of Stanford Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

Prunus laurocerasus. ENGLISH LAUREL. Eastern Europe, Asia Minor
ROSACEAE (Rose family)

Numerous specimens planted around 1900 grow in the Inner Quad as small, spreading trees with furrowed mid-gray bark. The leaves are glossy and leathery, slightly toothed and up to 6 inches long. Prunus laurocerasus came to Europe from Turkey in the 16th century, reached England in the 17th, and California in the 19th. Understandably, it is not called English laurel in England but rather common laurel or cherry laurel. The white flower spikes stand up conspicuously in spring; March is the time to notice that all the islands, except the two nearest to Memorial Court, are distinguished by at least one laurel. Later, the small blackish-blue conical berries conspicuously litter the Quad and attract birds.

Laurel leaves contain amygdalin, a compound of prussic acid (HCN) and glucose, which is also found in bitter almond kernels (see P. armeniaca) and, to a high degree, in cassava. The last English alchemist, Dr. James Price (1752-1783), demonstrated a catalyst for transmuting mercury into verifiable silver and gold, but a year later, under pressure to make more precious metal, he prepared a lethal potion by macerating laurel leaves and drank the fatal cup. Do not confuse this poisonous tree with the California 'laurel' (Umbellularia californica), leaf fragments of which can be used in cooking.

Other campus Prunus: Prunus armeniaca | Prunus caroliniana | Prunus cerasifera | Prunus ilicifolia | Prunus laurocerasus | Prunus lusitanica | Prunus lyonii | Prunus serrulata | Prunus subhirtella | Prunus × blireiana | Prunus × yedoensis

Illustrations (links open new windows): habit | leaves & fruit

Additions/Revisions: A shrub/groundcover form Prunus laurocerasus 'Zabeliana' has been occasionally planted, and has narrower shorter leaves than the species. It can be seen in the Math Courtyard and north side of Braun Music, and elsewhere.

Name derivation, genus | species Latin name for the plum tree | the common name, cherry laurel

Related material: Stanford Grounds Plant Information Sheet. List No. 14, p.2

Botanical name index | Common name index | Family
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