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BIRD CHERRY

Prunus padus

Rose Family [Rosaceae]

Flowers:
month8may month8jun month8june

Berries: berryZpossible        berryZblack  (poisonous, acrid)
berry8Aug berry8Sep berry8Sept berry8Oct

category
category8Trees
 
category
category8Deciduous
 
category
category8Broadleaf
 
status
statusZnative
 
flower
flower8bicolour
 
flower
flower8white
 
inner
inner8yellow
 
morph
morph8actino
 
petals
petalsZ5
 
type
typeZpanicle
 
stem
stem8round
 
smell
smell8fragrant smell8scented
fragrant

23rd April 2011, Southport, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
A shrub or small tree, about half the potential height of Wild Cherry.


23rd April 2011, Southport, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Dense but somewhat floppy panicles of white flowers which droop downwards starting from an angle of ±45° from the horizontal.


23rd April 2011, Southport, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The panicles look a little like large bottle brushes.


23rd April 2011, Southport, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Consisting of many five-petalled flowers arranged around a flowering stem.


23rd April 2011, Southport, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Flowers white with five oval petals.


23rd April 2011, Southport, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Over a dozen stamens with cream-coloured pollen, and a deep yellow-bottomed central cylindrical well.


23rd April 2011, Southport, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Petals a little untidy and crinkly.


26th June 2015, Spider Park, South Ruislip, Middx Photo: © Sue Kitt
The berries are on fairly long pedicels which are on long racemes at intervals along thin branches.


26th June 2015, Spider Park, South Ruislip, Middx Photo: © Sue Kitt
Berries start off a dirty green, and progress through a reddish brown to blackish.


26th June 2015, Spider Park, South Ruislip, Middx Photo: © Sue Kitt
The berries, fleshy drupes, are round to egg-shaped, about 1cm long and have a slight axial nick. They taste bitter and are poisonous.


23rd April 2011, Southport, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Leaves mid-green, oval a small convex point. Prominent veins. Underneath is a line of hairs along the rib (not seen here). Leaf stems purplish. Un-like the otherwise similar Rum Cherry (Prunus serotina) which has faint veins, the veins are easily discernible.


23rd April 2011, Southport, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Leaves are 5-10cm long, are oval to oblong and with a slender tip with many sharply-pointed and fine teeth pointing forwards (un-like the otherwise similar Rum Cherry which has outwardly-directed teeth which are rounded). The leaves have a non-glossy matte finish (again unlike those of Rum Cherry which are glossy).


23rd April 2011, Southport, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Bark purplish.


Not to be confused with : Bird's-Foot, Bird's-Foot-Trefoil Bird's-eye Primrose, Bird's-Nest Orchid nor with Bird-in-the-Bush [plants with similar names]

Very similar to Rum Cherry (Prunus serotina) but that has leaves which are glossy (matte on Bird Cherry), with indistinct veins (distinct on Bird Cherry) and have rounded teeth directed outwards (curved pointed teeth directed forward on Bird Cherry). Rum Cherry also has hairs along the back of part of the mid-rib of the leaves (absent on Bird Cherry).

Some similarities to : Cherry Laurel (but that has upright flower panicles) and to Portugal Laurel (but that has thinner and longer flower panicles that are always sloping downwards and which do not droop half-way along, but rather seem to make an effort to turn slightly upwards near the tip instead).

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature :

TWO CYANOGENIC GLYCOSIDES

The tree has poisonous black berries that are rather sharp to the taste. The leaves, fruit, seeds (within the fruit) and other parts of the plant contain two toxic cyanogenic glycosides, Amygdalin and some Prunasin, which are glycosidic derivatives of α-hydroxynitriles. They release hydrocyanic acid, HCN, on hydrolysis within the stomach.


It will be seen that the two are identical apart from Amygdalin possessing one more glucose unit. Both have the same modus operandii, in being completely harmless until hydrolysed within the stomach whereupon poisonous hydrocyanic acid is released. The cyanide preferrentially replacing the oxygen in haemoglobin such that the sufferer dies from lack of oxygen, particularly in the brain.

In more detail, the enzyme Amygdalin β-glucosidase acts on Amygdalin to produce Prunasin and D-glucose. The Prunasin is then acted upon by another enzyme Prunasin β-Prunasin to produce another unit of D-glucose and the aglycone Mandelonitrile, which in turn is broken down by the enzyme Mandelonitrile Lyase into Hydrogen Cyanide and Benzaldehyde. It is the hydrogen cyanide which is much more potent toxin, although benzaldehyde itself is not benign once in the mammalian body.


Mandelonitrile itself (an aglycone) does not occur in Bird Cherry, only its two glycosides, Prunasin and Amygdalin.


  Prunus padus  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Rosaceae  

Distribution
 family8Rose family8Rosaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Prunus
Prunus
(Cherries)

BIRD CHERRY

Prunus padus

Rose Family [Rosaceae]

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