Sp. Pl. 1: 474. 1753.
Shrubs or trees, sometimes suckering, 20–60(–100) dm, not thorny. Twigs with terminal end buds, glabrous. Leaves persistent; petiole 5–15 mm, glabrous, eglandular; blade elliptic to obovate, 6–18 × 3–7 cm, base cuneate to obtuse, margins remotely serrulate or nearly entire, teeth blunt, glandular, apex abruptly short-acuminate, apicula acute, surfaces glabrous, abaxial glandular, glands 1–several, proximal, flat, circular to oval. Inflorescences 26–32-flowered, racemes; central axes (35–)55–130 mm, leafless at bases. Pedicels 1–5 mm, glabrous. Flowers blooming before leaf emergence; hypanthium cupulate, 3–4 mm, glabrous externally; sepals spreading, triangular, 0.7–1.2 mm, margins usually entire, sometimes with deciduous glands, ciliate in spots, surfaces glabrous or hairy; petals white, obovate or broadly elliptic to suborbiculate, 3–5 mm; ovaries glabrous. Drupes deep purple-red to nearly black, ovoid to conic-ovoid, 13–17 mm, glabrous; mesocarps fleshy to leathery; stones ovoid, not flattened.
Phenology: Flowering Mar–May; fruiting Aug–Nov.
Habitat: Riparian thickets, shaded ravines, understory of urban and second-growth forests
Elevation: 0–600 m
Introduced; B.C., Calif., Oreg., Wash., Eurasia.
Flowering specimens of Prunus laurocerasus with small leaves and entire margins that otherwise resemble P. caroliniana can be identified by their larger hypanthia and longer petals. In fruit, the stone is much harder in P. laurocerasus and does not split open upon drying; the flesh around the stone is thicker and more succulent.