Carolina laurel cherry is native to the coastal plain region of the southeastern United States from coastal North Carolina to eastern Texas [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2018]. As a plant in the landscape, this species is often used for hedges or as a small tree. In Georgia, the original range of the plant has been questioned because the plant naturalizes freely (Godfrey, 1988). Michaux (1819) indicated that the species was mostly confined to the islands of the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida and was rarely found on the mainland more than a few miles from the coast. Harper (1906) noted the species from only a few locations in south Georgia, being “so rare that its indigeneity might be questioned.” Duncan (1950) mentions that the plant grows naturally along the east coast and in southwestern Georgia. Several authors noted that this species is commonly found as an escape from cultivated plants (Duncan, 1950; Godfrey, 1988; Harper, 1906; Radford et al., 1968).
In the southeast United States, carolina laurel cherry flowers from February to April and the fruit ripens in the fall/winter. In northern Florida, the fruit is a primary food source for the american robin (Turdus migratorius) and the cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedorum) (Skeate, 1987). As these bird species migrate north in late winter, they eat the fruit while perched in large deciduous trees and produce purplish-black fecal deposits, which are a nuisance in the landscape and on cars. In Athens, GA, american robins are often present in late February to early March (J.M. Ruter, personal observation). Numerous seedlings can be found germinating under trees of the species or in urban areas (Dirr, 1998; Gilman and Watson, 2006). Godfrey (1988) indicates that this species can be found in uplands, wooded slopes, near rivers, in maritime hammocks, along fencerows, and in vacant lots. In southern Georgia, the species will readily reseed and grow in the understory of abandoned pecan (Carya illinoinensis) orchards (J.M. Ruter, personal observation). The species is considered to be a facultative upland plant (USDA, 2018) and research has shown that the species is not tolerant of flooding (Ranney, 1994).
Although carolina laurel cherry is an attractive landscape plant with glossy foliage and good drought tolerance once established, only a few ornamental cultivars are available in the trade. Compact growth and reduced fruit set would be good attributes for future selections. Mutation breeding using gamma irradiation has been used to develop a number of ornamental cultivars (Shu et al., 2012). Traits that can be influenced by mutation breeding include time of flowering and fruit ripening, pollen abortion and sterility, improved disease and pest resistance, changes in environmental adaptability, and variations in growth habit. Advantages of using Cobalt-60 gamma irradiation include few disposal problems, high reproducibility, good penetration in plant tissue, and the rate of mutation frequency is high (Shu et al., 2012). The purpose of this research was to develop attractive selections of carolina laurel cherry that are sterile or have reduced fruit set that can be grown and used in the landscape.
DirrM.A.1998Manual of woody landscape plants. Stipes Publ. Champaign IL
GilmanE.F.WatsonD.G.2006Prunus caroliniana: Cherry-laurel. Univ. Florida Inst. Food Agr. Sci. Ext. ENH-664. 18 Dec. 2018. <https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/ST/ST50500.pdf>
GodfreyR.K.1988Trees shrubs and woody vines of Northern Florida and adjacent Georgia and Alabama. Univ. Georgia Press Athens GA
MichauxF.A.1819The North American sylva. Vol. II. C. D’Hautel Paris France
RadfordA.E.AhlesH.E.BellC.R.1968Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas. Univ. North Carolina Press Chapel Hill NC
ShuQ.Y.ForsterB.P.NakagawaH.2012Plant mutation breeding and biotechnology. CABI Cambridge MA
U.S. Department of Agriculture2018Prunus caroliniana. 29 Jan. 2019. <https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=PRCA>