Sunday, September 09, 2007

Prunus Part Two

For the past few years I have viewed common laurels (AKA english laurel, AKA cherry laurel) as a great big evergreen shrub planted everywhere around Portland, with almost no useful functions. Sure, it makes a fine hedge, but why not plant something with multiple uses which can also act as a hedge?

Little did I know! Prunus laurocerasus turns out to have perfectly edible fruit! Although frequently-clipped hedges of the plant do not bear fruit (I assume the plant only fruits on second year growth and/or on growth of a certain minimum height), unmaintained hegdes bear racemes rich in numerous cherry-sized, black fruits. The fruits taste fairly good to me; I can eat a handful or two at a time and enjoy them, though I don't like them as much as cherries, plums, etc. I eat the inner kernel in the same way as the other Prunus species. So far our small tub of fruit sitting outside has stayed fresh for several days, so they seem to keep well.

I've learned a lesson from this (besides that I can eat the fruits). Several people have told me that you can not eat the fruits; I now know that unless I really trust someone's plant knowledge, I should always do at least the basic research of running a new species through the Plants for a Future database and Francis Couplan's Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America.

I also notice how rapidly my point of view has shifted on this plant. Where I used to see common laurels and think "rip 'em all out!" I now think "Hello, friend!" It scares me a bit that I formed my previous knee-jerk reaction from poor data, and I plan to pay more attention in the future to whether I have a solid basis of knowledge about plants or ecosystems I consider altering. I will definitely proceed more carefully with any future projects such as the tearing out of our own laurel hedge here a few months ago! Although I still may have decided to replace our laurel hedge in our front yard with the diverse array of evergreen hedge plants with edible berries, to add variety and more native plants and plants with nitrogen-fixing ability to our yard, maybe I would have kept some of the laurels...

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