Prunus on campus – at least the naturalised ones!

This is a great time of year to admire the Prunus species on campus. Not only are the ornamental cherries wow-ing us with their blossoms but the naturalised species are also in flower.

Cherry laurel

Cherry laurel in flower in early April


Parts of the wilderness are dominated by Cherry laurel (P. laurocerasus). This is an evergreen shrub that reaches a height well over my head. It has racemes of white flowers in April.

There is also an occasional specimen of Portuguese laurel (P. lusitanica). This is also evergreen with racemes of white flowers.


Leaves of  Cherry laurel (left) - Portuguese laurel (right)

Leaves of
Cherry laurel (left) – Portuguese laurel (right)

The leaves of the Cherry laurel tend to be broadest near to the leaf tip – described as being obovate: ovate for oval-shaped, and ‘ob’ for broadest nearer the tip instead of near the middle of the leaf, which is the most common situation in plants. The leaves of the Portuguese laurel are broadest near the middle of their length and have slightly wavy edges.

Portuguese laurel with flower buds - early April.

Portuguese laurel with flower buds – early April.


The flowers of Portuguese laurel appear slightly later than the Cherry laurel’s flowers.

Bird cherry

Bird cherry flowering in early April




Also in the wilderness, look out for Bird cherry (P. padus). Bird cherry is deciduous. It can grow as a shrub or can make a delicate, small tree. There’s a lovely example near the eastern end of the wooden footbridge by the grotto. Like the two evergreen species, Bird cherry has racemes of white flowers but these appear more delicate and are more in keeping with our British natives.


Wild cherry (P. avium) can also be found on campus, especially near Earley Gate. This species grows into a full-sized tree rather than remaining as a shrub.

Cherry plum (P. cerasifera) and Wild plum (P.domestica) have also been seen on campus in the past. But, surprisingly Blackthorn (P. spinosa) has never been recorded.

About Fay Newbery

PhD student in the Plant Pathology Research Group.
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