Friday, October 17, 2014

Cyanide Leaves

This is not my house nor my street. It is just illustrative of the common usage of cherry laurel.

I introduce you to the toxic hazard of the chemical hydrogen cyanide, derived from the leaves of cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus). I have had this plant in my yard or near to it the whole time I have been in Oregon and have never considered it dangerous. Hmmm. It is easy to prune if you keep on it but it can grow to tree height if you let it. You can prune it to the ground and bare stumps with impunity. It will grow back. I pruned this stuff for years without a second thought. I have never been caught in a closed container with a bunch of crushed leaves however.

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

Prunus laurocerasus, cherry laurel

Prunus laurocerasus, cherry laurel

The leaves and fruit pips contain cyanolipids that are capable of releasing cyanide and benzaldehyde. The latter has the characteristic almond smell associated with cyanide.

1.5% cyanogenic glycosides are present in the leaves. During maceration, i.e. chewing, this becomes glucose, hydrogen cyanide (prussic acid), and benzaldehyde. Cyanide starves the central nervous system of oxygen and, thus, causes death.

The Prunus laurocerasus has enough of the poison in the leaves to be used by entymologists as a way of killing insect specimens without physical damage. They seal the live insects in a vessel containing the crushed leaves.

Confusing the two laurels and using the leaves of this plant as bay in cooking has resulted in poisoning. If this occurs prompt treatment is essential.

If I paid that kind
of attention, saw into
you as if my eyes
were new chain saw loud
and sharp as axes can be
when cared for like you
cared for me, if I
was willing to work that hard
then I could keep you.

I can hew your wood
and gather your cyanide
leaves into great piles.
I believe like that
but it might be true I can't
even if I try.

October 7, 2010 12:27 PM

1 comment:

The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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