It's Such a Versatile Plant
Common Name: Portuguese Cherry Laurel, Portugal Laurel
Botanical Name: Prunus lusitanica
Form: large shrub or small tree with a round dense canopy
Plant Type: broadleaf evergreen
Mature Size: 10’– 20’ x 15’ – 20’
Origin: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Canary Islands
Hardiness Zone: 4 to 9
Foliage: oval, glossy, dark green, 5 inch long leathery with wavy margins and bright red distinctive stems (petioles)
Flowers: fragrant, tiny white flowers with 5 petals on 6 to 10 inch spikes (racemes)
Fruit: small greenish red berries (drupes) that mature to a dark purplish-black in late summer and early autumn
Stems: dark brown and smooth
Exposure: full sun to part shade
Soil: soil tolerant, prefers moist well-drained but will grow in alkaline and chalky soils
Uses: specimen plant, hedge, screen, garden border, small tree, container gardening, birds
Propagation: softwood cuttings in early summer
Pruning: After flowering if grown as a specimen, tree etc., but if grown as a hedge, prune in May before flowers emerge.
Problems: vine weevils, leaf minors, berries and foliage are harmful if ingested
Awards: Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society
Portuguese laurels are suitable for most gardens. They can be trimmed to any size, are multipurpose, bear pretty fragrant flowers, don’t mind some shade, are tolerant to many types of soils, attract pollinators and are deer resistant.
This attractive deep green, glossy-leaved broadleaf evergreen is coveted by landscapers not just for its beauty, but for its versatility. Portuguese laurels can be grown in most soils from sandy, clay and alkaline, however it must be moist, not soggy.
Its dense branching habit and round crown is perfect when grown as a tree, shrub, hedge or screen. When grown as a hedge or screen, don’t plant them too close together as their canopies are quite broad and dense. It’s best to plant them at least 4 feet apart.
Portuguese laurel is a tidy plant that’s easy to maintain and prune. Unlike its big leafed relative, the English or cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), its foliage is small so it doesn’t look tattered and torn when sheared. Although English laurels are often used as formal hedges and screens, the Portuguese laurel is a much better option. Although they don’t grow as fast as English laurels, they still grow pretty fast. They are also more tolerant of sun, heat, wind and drought.
Portuguese laurels are often used as topiaries as they can be trimmed to any height or shape. However, with that said, when left to grow as nature intended, their flowers are quite impressive, are fragrant and pollinators love them. Their blossoms consist of small white flowers that grow along long stems (racemes), which rise with grace above the foliage.
One of the distinguishing features of Portugal laurel’s is the rhubarb-red leaf stems (petioles). They contrast nicely with the patent-leather shiny green foliage that stays on throughout the year, even when covered with snow. So no matter what time of year it is, this broadleaf evergreen provides colour, form and structure with every season.
Butterflies: It is a larval host plant to the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail so don’t spray if you see caterpillars feasting on them.
Invasive? Compared to the English laurel, the Portuguese laurel is well-behaved, however, it is considered to be invasive in Washington and Oregon. It is spread by the birds who feed on the black berries and defecate the seeds during flight.
Toxic? Their leaves contain cyanide so they should not be burned or crushed. And don’t eat the berries, leave them to the birds, as they are also toxic.