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Monday - May 10, 2010

From: Cedar Park, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Poisonous Plants
Title: Alternative to Carolina Cherry Laurel in Cedar Park TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I love the look of the Carolina Cherry Laurel but hear that its berries are poisonous and can harm my dog if he eats them. What are some other alternatives that have a similar look; I'm looking for trees or shrubs that are evergreen and can be used as a hedge for privacy that shields the neighbors house (at least 10 feet tall, but don't take up too much space in width).

ANSWER:

From our Native Plant Database:

"The seeds, twigs, and leaves of all Prunus species contain hydrocyanic acid and should never be eaten. Leaves of Prunus caroliniana are particularly high in this toxin. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a person’s age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plant’s different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil."

Not only does Prunus caroliniana (Carolina laurelcherry) have this characteristic, but also do many other members of the genus Prunus, both native and non-native, which includes cherries, peaches, and plums. So, you are well advised to check on the plant before you plant it, especially if you have pets that are chewers or children that are curious, and don't mind tasting something if it's not good for them. 

We will try to find you an alternative, but the choices are pretty limited, given your specifications. When a tree or shrub begins to grow, the circumference of the branched area is going to be fairly close to the height of the tree. In other words, if a shrub grows to 10 ft. tall, lots of its branches are going to extend out about 5 ft. in all directions. It can be pruned, of course, but if you prune it too much, you will deprive it of the nutrition the leaves are providing to the tree. For instance, an Ilex vomitoria (yaupon) can grow 12 to 45 ft. in height, although it usually averages around 15 ft. tall. It can be pruned, and often is, into hedges, but you will have to allow for some width to support the height. It can also be trained as a tree, so that only the upper part is providing screening, but since that would probably be about window height, it would be more attractive. Another possibility is Morella cerifera (wax myrtle);  essentially a shrub, it serves as an excellent screen plant, multi-trunked and growing from 8 to 12 ft. tall, although it can grow to 20 feet. Both of these plants are evergreen, neither has toxic parts and both will do well in sun (6 hours or more of sun a day) or part shade (2 to 6 hours of sun). 

Letting one of these two shrubs grow into a tree shape would permit the crown to retain its leaves and shape, while not having to be so far from fences or pathways. You would probably want to plant these shrubs about 6 ft. apart, trunk to trunk. As the plants grow larger, the crowns will begin to merge with each other, thickening the privacy shield. Follow each plant link to read more about the two shrubs and help you make your own decision.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

 

 

 

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