Portugal laurel, cherry bay (Eng); hija, jija, guindo silvestre, hixa, azarero, loro (Spa); llorer-cirer de Portugal (Cat); Portugaleko erramua (Baq); loureiro de Portugal (Glg); loureiro-de-Portugal (Por).
DID YOU KNOW...? The Portugal laurel is considered to be relict 'palaeotropical' flora that has survived to the present time in sheltered refuges.
This is a thornless tree that keeps its leaves throughout the year and can grow to more than 10 m tall. It has a very dense, parasol-shaped crown that casts a deep shade. Its trunk is straight, greyish and has more or less smooth bark. It is easily recognised by its characteristic leaves that are simple, alternate, ovate-lanceolate in shape, and much longer than they are wide (10-15 cm by 3-4 cm). They have a serrated margin and an apex that narrows abruptly into an elongated point. They are hairless, almost leathery and have contrasting faces: the upper side is shiny and dark green, while the underside is paler and matt. The young twigs and leaf stalks (up to 3 cm long) are usually reddish in colour. Numerous hermaphroditic flowers with 5 white, round petals are borne in elongated upright clusters that are very showy, and up to 25 cm long. After fertilisation, small, not very fleshy fruits (drupes) form. These are ovoid, 8-13 mm in diameter and purple when ripe. They have a bitter, somewhat harsh flavour. Each fruit contains a stone with a seed inside.
Its range is usually associated with relatively mild temperatures and high humidity. The Portugal laurel is a tree of the laurel forests. It tends to grow in enclosed, shady zones with deep soils, although sometimes groups are found where the laurel forest is more open. This tree can also be found, although to a lesser extent, in areas exposed to the wind, on steep slopes or at the tops of ravines dominated by the monteverde forest. In general it grows between altitudes of 600 and 900 m.
The species is very widely distributed, with isolated groups in the Iberian Peninsula, southwestern France, North Africa and Macaronesia (Canary Islands, Madeira and Azores). In the Canaries, Prunus lusitanica is represented by the subspecies hixa, which is endemic to these islands and Madeira (the other two recognised subspecies are azorica, native to the Azores, and lusitanica). This tree is not particularly abundant in the Canary Islands and is found on the islands of El Hierro, La Palma, La Gomera, Tenerife and Gran Canaria.