En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - July 25, 2010

From: Altadena, CA
Region: California
Topic: Trees
Title: Will Prunus caroliniana (Carolina laurelcherry) be toxic to chickens?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

We are considering planting Carolina Cherry Laurels around our yard for dense hedging purposes. We are concerned because we have a small flock of free-ranging chickens who eat every seed and leaf in site. We are aware that the Cherry Laurels have high amounts of prussic/hydrocyanic acid in them which, while very toxic to people, is apparently not to birds (I assume that includes chickens..can you please confirm?). My question is, will the eggs the chickens lay after they eat the seeds be poisonous to us humans in any way?

ANSWER:

Prunus caroliniana (Carolina laurelcherry), according to the Merck Veterinary Manual has cyanogenic glycosides that are transformed into hydrocyanic acid (HCN), also known as prussic acid, in wilted leaves, bark and twigs. This can occur when the cyanogenic glycosides are hydrolyzed by ß-glycosidase or when the cells are mechanically disrupted by freezing, breakage, chewing, etc.  This is especially dangerous for grazing animals such as goats, horses, cows, etc., who may eat these plants or fallen leaves of these plants when other forage is scarce.  Ruminants are especially susceptible because the microbes in their rumen is also responsible for freeing more cyanide.  You can read about the effects of Cyanide Poisoning from the Merck Veterinary Manual.

Obviously, birds do eat the berries with no ill effects and chickens are, indeed, birds.  Birds don't, however, digest the hard seeds.  They expel them and that's how we get so many shoots coming up all over the place.  You could probably eat the fruit yourself as long as you spit out the seed.  You probably wouldn't enjoy it very much because it is reported to be mostly skin and very little 'flesh' and, unless the fleshy part is ripe and soft, it has a bitter taste.  Indeed, all Prunus spp. (peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, wild almonds) have toxic leaves and seeds; but, obviously we enjoy their fruits.  We are safe as long as we don't eat the seeds, bark, leaves or twigs. An exception are cultivated domestic almonds that have a genetic mutation that keeps them from producing cyanogenic glycosides in their edible seeds, the almond.  If your chickens were to eat the leaves of the laurelcherry, however, it might be a different story.  Prunus caroliniana (Carolina laurel cherry) isn't on this list of Plants Toxic to Poultry, but that doesn't guarantee that the leaves are safe for chickens.

You might like to consider some other evergreen California native for your hedge.  Here are a few suggestions:

Malosma laurina (laurel sumac) and here are photos and more information.

Morella californica (California wax myrtle) and here are photos and more information.

Comarostaphylis diversifolia (summer holly) and here is more information.

Ceanothus arboreus (feltleaf ceanothus) and here are photos and more information.

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus (blueblossom) and here are more photos and more information.

 

 

More Trees Questions

Tree for St Paul MN
April 30, 2012 - Need deciduous faster growing shade tree, more taproot style (few/no surface bulging roots--had to cut down large silver maple), few/no fatal pests, tolerant of cold (MN), preferably able to take vari...
view the full question and answer

Should shredded Ashe juniper be composted for mulch?
May 06, 2009 - Our neighbor shredded some Texas Hill Country cedar trees. Can we use it safely as mulch? Do we need to wait until it composts some?
view the full question and answer

Will Black Walnut trees grow in Boerne TX?
June 01, 2011 - Was curious if any one sells Black Walnut Trees??? They used to be around the Boerne, TX area and I wondered if we could try to grow them.
view the full question and answer

Grafting to a cherry laurel for edible fruit in Austin
July 01, 2010 - I was the one who asked earlier about grafting to a Cherry Laurel. I will happily graft a local plum on it, say a Mexican Plum or American Plum or one of the naturalized peaches (a friend has an India...
view the full question and answer

Is Carolina laurel (Prunus caroliniana) a good choice for San Juan Islands, Washington?
November 03, 2007 - What are the prospects for Carolina laurel here on San Juan Island, mixed in with thin stand of douglas fir, about 50 feet from shore, eastern exposure? Water is available but little sun because of l...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center