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

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Tuesday - August 14, 2012

From: Asheville, NC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Poisonous Plants, Shrubs
Title: Are Carolina Cherry Laurel seeds poisonous from Asheville NC
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a Carolina cherry laurel in my back yard that is dropping berries into my vegetable garden beds. May be a silly question, but will the berries poison the plants (and me) when I eat them?

ANSWER:

From our webpage on Prunus caroliniana (Cherry laurel):

"Warning: 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."

Our understanding is that everything but the flesh of the berry which contains the seed is poisonous on that plant, including the seed. Apparently birds, who love this plant, can eat and digest the fruit and discharge the poisonous seed without harm, to themselves, at least.

And it certainly was not a silly question. There is no reason to believe the berries would poison the plants in the vegetable garden, but as the bird droppings with those seeds show up in your vegetable garden, they will begin to sprout and you will have undesirable weeds (the sprouting cherry laurel seeds) growing in that garden. Personally, we would discard the bush that is hanging over the garden and any others close enough to get the berries in it. Otherwise, you are tagged with the job of carefully removing the berries before they disintegrate and expose the poisonous seed to either sprout or be picked up by a child or pet. Another point, if the cherry laurel is close enough to be dropping berries into the dirt, it is probably shading your vegetables or competing with them for nutrients and moisture. And you don't want the equally poisonous leaves and twigs fallng on your garden, again, possibly to be "tasted" by a child or a pet.

 

From the Image Gallery


Carolina cherry-laurel
Prunus caroliniana

Carolina cherry-laurel
Prunus caroliniana

Carolina cherry-laurel
Prunus caroliniana

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