The information from Brazilian Trees[
] is based on Prunus sellowii Koehne, treated here as a synonym of Prunus myrtifolia[
The taxonomic history of Prunus is long and complicated, in part due to the economic value of its fruit crops and also the ease with which some species hybridize. Here, Prunus is circumscribed in its broad sense based on the argument that when viewed on a worldwide scale, the morphologic discontinuities among the segregate genera diminish and they overlap with one another. Included here are species that have at times been placed in the genera Amygdalus, Armeniaca, Cerasus, Laurocerasus, Padus, and Persica.
At the species level, Prunus has been the object of the usual combining and splitting common among taxonomists with different philosophies and opinions. In particular, over-reliance on the indument of various vegetative and floral parts has led to the naming of numerous species and infraspecific taxa. Similarly, too much has been made of fruit colour and palatability in naming taxa of Prunus. It is very likely that, as molecular and genetic data are analyzed and, more importantly, correlated with morphological data, circumscriptions will be redrawn and the number of Prunus species will be reduced[
Celastrus myrtifolius L.
Cerasus reflexa Gardner
Laurocerasus myrtifolia (L.) Britton
Prunus sellowii Koehne
Prunus sphaerocarpa Sw.
Common Name: West Indies Cherry
West Indies cherry is an evergreen tree with a dense, pyramid shaped crown; it can grow 10 - 15 metres tall. The crooked bole can be 30 - 40cm in diameter[
The tree is sometimes harvested from the wild for its wood and for local medicinal uses.
The plant (especially the seed and young shoots) contains cyanogenic glycosides, especially amygdalin and prunasin. When injested, these compounds break down in the digestive tract to release cyanide. Used in small quantities in both traditional and conventional medicine, this exceedingly poisonous compound has been shown to stimulate respiration, improve digestion, and promote a sense of well-being[
]. It is also claimed by some to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer - though this claim has been largely refuted.
In larger concentrations, however, cyanide can cause gasping, weakness, excitement, pupil dilation, spasms, convulsions, coma and respiratory failure leading to death[
The fruits and flowers of most members of this genus generally have low or very low concentrations of this toxin, though the seeds and young shoots can contain much higher levels.
The levels of toxin can be detected by the level of bitterness:- for example sweet tasting almond seeds are a major food crop and are often eaten in quantity, whilst bitter tasting almond seeds are used as a flavouring (in marzipan for example) but are not usually eaten on their own.
In general, it can be considered safe to eat any fruit or seed from species in this genus that either have a sweet flavour or are slightly bitter. Great caution should be taken, however, if the flavour is moderately to very bitter[
S. America - Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, French Guiana, Surinam; Caribbean - Trinidad to Cuba; N. America - Florida, Mexico.
Semideciduous forest, most commonly in open, secondary formations and only occasionally in the denser primary forest[
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Succeeds in full sun and in dappled shade[
]. Tolerant of a wide range of soils[
Plants have a moderate rate of growth[
A decoction of the grated bark is used as a pectoral remedy for colds[
The heartwood is a light, clear red; the thick band of sapwood is paler in colour[
]. The wood is fine-textured, straight and close-grained, heavy, hard to cut, with moderate resistance to wood-eating organisms. It is used for internal purposes in construction, for making furniture, sports articles, tool handles, lathe work, plywood etc[
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a partially shaded position in a nursery seedbed or in individual containers. A low germination rate can usually be expected, with the seed sprouting within 30 - 50 days[
Seeds have a viability of at least 12 months if kept in cold storage[
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