It is a vigorous and resistant shrub, evergreen, with thick and compact vegetation; the leaves are oval, lanceolate, with toothed margin, slightly leathery and glossy, of dark green colour; in spring, at the apex of the branches, small white star-shaped flowers bloom, united in erect panicles; they have a very intense perfume, which can be unpleasant.
The flowers are followed by small black berries, similar to opaque olives; the berries and the leaves contain hydrocyanic acid, and are therefore decidedly very toxic, even if they have a disgusting taste, and therefore are not at all inviting for humans or animals.
The vigour of their development, the dense and compact vegetation and the fairly rapid development have made these shrubs very widespread as hedge plants, especially in past years.
In fact, this abuse of laurocerase has made them plants sometimes little loved, even if they are very interesting shrubs, especially for those who love to have a low maintenance garden: they do not get sick often, tend not to be affected by pests, withstand cold, humidity and heat, and have a very pleasant appearance, especially if grown as individual specimens, or as a sapling, and then can be admired in their entire development, and not compressed into a hedge.
On the market, there are some very diffused varieties, among which are some with particularly dark, reddish or brown leaves.
Description and origins
Family and gender
Type of plant
Shrubs or trees
Sun, half shade, luminous shadow
Deep, moist, sub-acid or neutral
End of winter
White flowers, dark green leaves
Seed, cutting, layering
Pests and diseases
Oidium, aphids, otiorrincum
The larocerasum is a shrub or small tree belonging to the family Rosaceae and the vast genus of Prunus. It can reach a height of 10 metres and, in nature, it has an expanded shape.
It has elliptic to oblong or obovate leaves, long up to 20 cm and 6 broad, pointed at the apex and usually not much toothed. The upper part goes from the glossy yellowish to the very dark green. The lower part, on the contrary, is pale green.
The bark is grey-brown, smooth and the flowers are 8 mm wide, white, with 5 petals and perfumed. They are collected in erect, 12 cm long racemes, at the axil of the leaves by mid-spring. It happens that they bloom again in autumn. The fruits are berry-shaped, round and 1,2 cm broad, first green, then red and black when ripe. It is native to south-western Asia, particularly Armenia, and eastern Europe. Its habitat of origin are the forest bushes.
In nature, the plant spreads thanks to the animals and in particular thanks to the blackbirds and starlings that feed on its fruits expelling the seeds away from the place of origin.
Because of its reproductive capacity, it has become an invasive plant throughout Europe, and in many countries it is being hindered from spreading.
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Cultivating the lauroceraso
These shrubs are very common because it is not necessary to care for them constantly and continuously, once planted and adapted to the place where they are tend to settle for the water provided by the rains, and tend not to get too sick.
They prefer sunny locations, but survive without any problems also in the half shade or in the complete shade, where, however, often they tend to bloom little or not at all; they do not fear the cold, and can bear winter temperatures close to the -10°C; lower temperatures may cause burns of the more external vegetation, which will have to be pruned by the end of winter, in order to stimulate the development of new healthy shoots.
Before positioning the young plants, it is best to prepare a large planting hole, where we will work well the soil, enriching it with manure (or slow release granular fertilizer) and lightening it with little sand. Laurocerases can withstand short periods of water stagnation, but it is advisable to avoid leaving the soil constantly soaked in water.
Watering will be fairly regular, from March to September, during the first year after planting; once stabilized, the plants of lauroceraso tend to be satisfied with the water provided by the weather, although it is appropriate to intervene with watering in case of prolonged drought, especially in the hottest weeks of the year.
Pruning is usually done at the end of winter, to remove branches damaged by the weather and frost, then you can repeat pruning, after flowering, or simply when the plant begins to develop branches that go far outside the original canopy.
The laurocerasum is typically cultivated in full earth, but it can be bred also in pot; apart some dwarf varieties, particularly compact, they are very vigorous shrubs, and with a rather rapid growth, for this reason it is good to remember to provide each shrub of a vast quantity of earth, placing them in capacious containers, and not in small pots, where they might suffer too much.
Propagate the lauroceraso
I prunus laurocerasus they are easily propagated by cutting; they are to be taken in late spring, or in summer, even if desired from the branches resulting from a pruning; the cuttings are to be prepared by portioning the branches in small branches about 7-10 cm long, and removing the leaves in the lower part, cutting in half the upper ones.
The cuttings are immersed in the rooting hormone and then are inserted in a good cultivation compound, formed by peat, or universal mould, mixed with equal quantity of sand, in order to maintain a good drainage.
The cuttings trays are to be kept in a semi-shady place, protected from the wind and quite cool, watering the soil regularly. Usually, the laurocerasum cuttings have a good success, but in order to have a good size plant, we have to be patient, and wait some years; the young cuttings are therefore cultivated in pot for about 2-3 years, before placing the plants in the garden.
They can be propagated also by seed, leaving the fruits to dry up in the sun for some days; the seeds thus obtained are to be placed in a bag or in a tray, completely covered of sand, and then placed in the fridge, to imitate the winter season; after at least 6-8 weeks, it is possible to extract the seeds from the container and to sow them in a mixture of peat and sand, which is to be kept humid, but not soaked in water; the laurocerases are difficult to be sown, due to the necessity of wintering, but also because they take months for germinating, and therefore it is much easier to propagate these plants by cutting.
The lauroceraso in herbal medicine
The leaves and seeds of laurocerasum contain, besides the hydrocyanic acid, other active principles, exploited in a series of herbal remedies, but also in the traditional medicine.
Basically, the antispasmodic and sedative properties of the plant are exploited, especially for the dry and persistent cough. The leaves are used for preparing eye washings.
Containing toxic active ingredients, clearly leaves and seeds are used cold, and are not ingested.
Even if the seeds are toxic, the fruits, that is, the pulp around them, is edible, even if it has a particular taste, not appreciated by all. These fruits may be consumed fresh, or may be utilized for preparing jams.
Nowadays, due to the great availability of fruit coming also from very far away areas, this type of fruit is not appreciated at all, but once the berries of the lauroceraso represented the only source of vitamins for many populations. Fruits that are not perfectly ripe have a very astringent taste; often the harmful substances are present also in the pulp of the fruits, which, in such case, however, are very bitter, and therefore are not consumed.
The toxic substances contained in the seeds and in the leaves are in any case exploited, first of all because, in small quantities, they seem to give good results against the asthma, improve the digestion and the breathing; furthermore, from the leaves it is possible to extract an aroma utilized in the industry as substitute of the taste of bitter almonds.
It is a cold resistant shrub. It is easily cultivated from sea level up to 800 meters, although the ideal altitude is 300 meters.
Usually the laurocerasus does not suffer damage during the winter and withstands temperatures as low as -20°C. Below this temperature the leaves and some branches may dry out. In that case, it is a good idea to prune rather drastically in the spring so that the plant is stimulated to produce new shoots.
If we live in a particularly rigid region it may be a good idea to protect the foot of the plants with leaves, branches, straw and mature manure. It is an excellent method of protecting vital parts from which, in the event of total defoliation, we can hope for new shoots.
This treatment is also strongly recommended in the case of newly planted or very young plants. It is possible to proceed by creating small mounds of soil around the foot of the plant and then cover them further with other debris.
The lauroceraso is also quite resistant to heat. It is hardly damaged. Sunburn can only occur if it is exposed to full sun in the southern regions. In that case, let’s consider well before the planting whether it is appropriate to place it in a more sheltered position.
The lauroceraso bears well almost all exposures. The ideal one is in mid-shade, but it lives well also in full sun or in a luminous shade.
Clearly, we also assess our soil and climate zone well. If we are in a mountain environment it is better to give a brighter exposure, if we are in particularly hot areas we shine more.
It prefers a deep, moist and possibly slightly acid soil. Therefore, calcareous soils or soils that are too compact and clayey should be avoided. As it is a plant coming from wooded habitats, it wants a soil composed mainly of leaves and soil with a lot of humus.
As with all plants during planting, it is always good to prepare a good draining layer on the bottom of the hole composed of gravel and possibly shards. In this way we will avoid water stagnation that can cause root rot and diseases, especially in the lower leaves.
I laurocerasus they need soil that’s always fresh, but not soaked in water. Adult plants in the open ground rarely need human intervention under normal climatic conditions. If a particularly poor year of rain should occur or if we live in the Centre-South, during the summer, we can intervene with abundant irrigations every 15 days.
As we have pointed out, the lauroceraso particularly likes subacidic soils. Therefore, let’s try, as much as possible, to avoid irrigating with very hard water, that is, rich of calcium. This could, in the long run, alter the pH of the soil and cause the appearance of leaf chlorosis.
To always have healthy and vigorous plants it is a good rule to proceed once a year with a fertilization based on pelleted or floured manure or other natural soil improver. The best time to spread it is in autumn. The foot of the plant and the surrounding area should be covered, but without touching the trunk. During the winter the product will be melted by rain and snow and will begin to infiltrate the ground.
With the arrival of the summer we can incorporate the remaining material on the surface with a slight hoeing.
If we want we can add a little granular fertilizer for green plants. However, we avoid products with too high a nitrogen content because they could cause excessive vigour in the plant and consequently the appearance of insects or pathogens of cryptogamic origin.
The ideal period for planting in almost all of Italy is autumn. It is preferable to proceed in spring in areas where the winters are very cold and reach -20 ° C.
Let’s always proceed in a dry day and when the night temperatures have not reached zero temperature.
The hole for planting must be 80 to 100 cm in diameter and depth. If we want to make a hedge, the ideal distance between the specimens is from 100 to 120 cm. However, it is preferable to leave more space: it is true that the hedge will take longer to reach a compact appearance, but we will have less radical competition and there will be less problems later caused by too thick vegetation.
At the bottom of the hole a draining layer must be created with gravel or shards. It is always a good idea to add a good quantity of organic soil improver such as pelleted manure, bone meal or hornbeam. It will be an easily accessible food for our plant. After inserting a layer of insulating soil for the roots we can insert the plants so that the collar comes slightly below ground level. Cover the trunk by creating a cone of soil, compact well and water abundantly.
If our laurocerases form a hedge, pruning should be carried out twice a year, preferably at the beginning of June and the end of September. Of course, if the growth is very vigorous you can also intervene other times, but keep in mind that if we cut at the end of winter we will not have the spring flowering. In the first years after planting, pruning must be frequent to encourage branching and make our plant barrier compact and uniform.
The fastest way to reproduce the lauroceraso is the cutting. During the summer it is necessary to take some 15-20 cm portions of the branch, partially lignified. They should be sprinkled with hormonal products and placed in jars with a very light mixture of peat and sand or agri-perlite and kept moist and protected from the currents. They usually root within a month, but can then be moved into larger pots only in the following spring.
Pests and adversity
The most important enemy is the perforating powdery mildew: it develops on the young leaves during the spring and progressively covers them with a white patina. The leaves then necrotize and as a result, cuts and perforations are formed. Adult leaves are rarely attacked by this fungus.
To prevent it, it is important first of all to cut and burn all the affected parts and, in spring, in case of strong temperature range and with atmospheric humidity, heat and rain, often proceed with the spreading of wettable sulphur or special anti-oid products. In case of appearance, proceed with a careful cleaning and distribution of fungicides curative and eradicating, even on the surrounding land.
For the rest we can say that the lauroceraso is rather resistant. However, it can be attacked by insects such as aphids and otiorinc. In the first case, if the disease is serious and the leaves are filling up with honeydew and soot, it is good to distribute a specific insecticide and then wash the leaves with water and soap.
The otiorrinc hits the leaves by eating their edges and damaging the aesthetics of the plant. They also damage the root system. It is important to use insecticides that act on the larvae in the soil.
Being a widely used plant, nurserymen have tried to create new cultivars, suitable for any type of garden. Currently on the market you can find more than 40 different cultivars.
– Aureovariegata’ with golden margins
– ‘Magnifolia’, vigorous and with very large leaves
– Otto Luyken’ with compact habit and smaller leaves
– Zabeliana’ very rustic
– Caucasian’ vigorous
– Etna’ : compact and with young leaves reddish cuivrées ;
– ‘Herbergii’; : narrow leaves ;
– Marbled White : variegated in white
– Mount Vernon’ : maximum height 30 cm, ideal for pots.
Lauroceraso – Prunus laurocerasus: Poisonous plant
The laurocerasum is a very poisonous plant in all its parts. Particular attention must therefore be paid to the presence of children and pets.
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