The Prunus laurocerasus, or cherry laurel, is an ornamental tree or shrub commonly grown throughout the world in gardens. The species poses a danger to growers through the possibility of poisoning because of the chemical make up of the leaves and fruit of the tree.
The Cherry Laurel is not native to North America but can be grown in certain areas of the South, where it was planted in large numbers in the state of Texas. When grown as a standalone tree, the cherry laurel can reach heights of 40 feet and a width of around 25 feet. The cherry laurel grows with a symmetrical oval crown at a moderate growth rate. The tree can also be pruned to form a flowering hedge, that is capable of producing a black fruit and white, cream or grey flowers.
Cherry laurel leaves contain cyanide and benzaldehyde that is capable of cutting off the air supply of an animal or human being resulting in death. Each cherry laurel leaf contains around 1.5 per cent cyanogenic glycosides, which produce glucose, hydrogen cyanide and benzaldehyde when chewed. The leaves of the cherry laurel contain enough cyanide byproducts to be used by entomologists to kill insects for academic research without causing damage to the body of the insect, the specimen is placed in a sealed container containing crushed cherry laurel leaves that starve the insect of oxygen until it dies.
An abundance of pests are attracted to the fruit and flowers of the tree. An insect that is commonly attracted to the cherry laurel is the bee, according to the University of Florida. Where the cherry laurel is planted in high traffic areas for humans, the number of bees during the flowering season for the tree can become a problem. The cherry laurel can also attract pests, such as borers, mites and caterpillars that can spread to other trees and plants.
The fruit of the cherry laurel is described as poisonous by the University of Florida, with pets consuming cherry laurel fruits and leaves commonly infected by cyanide poisoning. The fruit is described as having an odour similar to that of maraschino cherries, with a slight almond scent caused by the cyanide. The fruit of the cherry laurel also presents problems with littering caused by the dropping of fruit from the branches of the tree.