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What is a Portugal Laurel?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2016
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Portugal laurel, scientifically known as Prunus lusitanica, is a species of evergreen plants belonging to the family Rosaceae. It is sometimes referred to as the Portuguese cherry laurel, Portugal cypress, or evergreen Bay tree. The plants of this species are considered native to Portugal, Spain, and southwestern France, as well as a few other regions. Most of these plants can be seen along mountain streams, and they prefer well-drained soils and lots of sunlight. Portugal laurel plants are often plagued by the parasitic honey fungus.

These plants are either trees or shrubs and grow 10 to 49 feet (3 to 15 m) in height. They can serve as a hedge and thrive in the woodlands. These plants can be pruned to create formal shapes, and it is optimal to trim them in the month of August. If permitted to grow naturally, they can develop into large and shapely trees.

Portugal laurel plants bear oval leaves that measure 3 to 5 inches (7 to 12 cm) in length and 1 to 2 inches (3 to 5 cm) in width. These leaves are arranged alternately and have a close resemblance to Bay laurel leaves. Each glossy dark green leaf bears tooth-like projections and a short tip. If crushed or burnt, the cyanide content of these leaves will be released.

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The flowers of these ornamental plants are hermaphrodites, with both female and male organs. Each flower contains tiny white petals and measures 0.4 to 0.6 inches (10 to 15 mm) in diameter. Insects help in the pollination of the Portugal laurel flowers.

These evergreen plants produce small fruits that are shaped like cherries and measure 0.3 to 0.5 inches (8 to 13 mm) in diameter. At first, the fruits are green or reddish in color, but they turn dark purple as they mature. These fruits are abundant during the later part of summer or early in autumn. The extreme bitterness of the fruit makes it inedible.

The Portugal laurel species belongs to a genus in which almost all members are known to produce the poisonous substance hydrogen cyanide. The toxic compound is concentrated in the seeds and leaves and is detected easily by its bitter taste. Hydrogen cyanide may not be harmful in small quantities and has been proved to improve digestion and stimulate respiration. When taken in excess, this harmful substance can be fatal, causing failure of the respiratory system, which can lead to death.

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