An evergreen shrub of wide, bushy form, usually 10 to 20 ft, but occasionally 40 to 50 ft high, more in diameter; young branches quite glabrous and very dark. Leaves ovate or oval, 21⁄2 to 5 in. long, 11⁄4 to 2 in. wide, quite glabrous on both surfaces, very dark, glossy green above, paler below, shallowly roundish toothed. Racemes produced in June from the ends of the previous summer’s shoots, and from the axils of their leaves, 6 to 10 in. long, 1 to 11⁄4 in. through, more or less erect. Flowers white, 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 in. across, calyx cup-shaped, with shallow, rounded lobes; stalk 1⁄3 in. long. Fruits dark purple, 1⁄3 in. long, cone-shaped, pointed.
Native of Spain and Portugal; in cultivation 1648. In all but the coldest parts of Great Britain the Portugal laurel is one of the handsomest and most effective of evergreens. It should be grown as isolated specimens, especially in thinly wooded parts of the grounds. Although it is chiefly valued for the luxuriance of its rich green lustrous foliage, it has some merit as a flowering shrub, for in June it produces an extraordinary profusion of long, slender racemes, whose only defect is that the flowers are rather dull. It is hardier than the cherry laurel, and on warm, well-drained soil withstands thirty-two degrees of frost without being in the least affected. A serious defect of the Portugal laurel is that it is susceptible to Silver Leaf disease (Stereum purpureum), for which see Dictionary of Gardening, Vol. 4, p. 1957.
subsp. azorica (Mouillef.) Franco – Leaves relatively wider than in the mainland plants, sometimes up to 5 in. long and 21⁄2 in. wide. According to J. A. Franco, it also differs in its shorter, fewer-flowered racemes and in its fruits being longer than the pedicels (against more or less equal to them in typical P. lusitanica). Native of the Azores.
The Azores cherry laurel was introduced around 1860 by Osborne’s once famous nursery at Fulham. F.C.C. 1866. It is hardy at Kew.
cv. ‘Myrtifolia’. – A shrub of neat, rounded habit, and of stiffer, closer growth than the type. Leaves much smaller, usually 11⁄2 to 2 in. long.
cv. ‘Ormistonensis’. – Leaves dark green and leathery, of the ordinary size; habit compact.
cv. ‘Variegata’. – Leaves margined with white; more tender than the green forms.
All the forms of Portugal laurel are easily increased by late summer cuttings; the type also by seeds.