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LAURUS nobilis

Image of Laurus nobilis

Felder Rushing

Family

Lauraceae

Botanical Name

LAURUS nobilis

Plant Common Name

Bay Laurel, Sweet Bay

General Description

This beautiful broadleaf evergreen is native to the dry climate surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Valued since ancient times for its leathery, aromatic leaves, it is the sweet bay used for culinary seasoning, and was the stuff of the victor’s laurel crown awarded in the games of ancient Greece. Bay laurel is now grown in many countries as a commercial crop. It also makes a fine ornamental, and has yielded several cultivars with varying foliage forms and colors.

In its native habitat, bay laurel can grow to a tree of considerable height with age, but is most often seen as a large to medium-sized shrub. Its forms an upright, branching, conical form, with trunk and branches covered in glossy, pale gray bark. The leathery, pointed, dark green leaves are lance-shaped to broadly oval, with wavy, finely toothed margins, and emit a pungent fragrance when crushed or broken. Clusters of small, greenish yellow flowers appear in spring, with pollen-producing male flowers and fruit-bearing female flowers borne on separate plants. Following pollination, those of female plants mature to round, purple to black fruits that contain a single seed. These may cause problems with pavement staining if plants are sited too closely to walks or driveways.

Bay laurel is best grown in part sun to part shade, and fertile, well-drained soil. Regular moisture is ideal, but standing water or soggy conditions should be avoided. Protect from harsh winter winds to avoid desiccation of foliage. The plants are quite attractive if allowed to grow naturally, but have traditionally been sheared to create topiary forms or to limit their size (possibly to eliminate fruit production). Care should be taken if pruning, as the bark is susceptible to sunburn if the canopy is clipped to closely.

This handsome evergreen is suitable for mixed borders, foundation plantings, or as an accent in the home kitchen garden. Plants may be grown in containers to be brought indoors in colder regions. Fresh or dried bay leaves are a delicious seasoning for soups, stews and Italian dishes, and are an essential ingredient of bouquet garni, small bundles of herbs used in French cooking. Inserting the leaves into cereal or flour containers is a very effective old-time remedy for repelling pantry weevils.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    8 - 11

  • Sunset Zone

    5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    5'-40' / 1.5m - 12.2m

  • Width

    5'-30' / 1.5m - 9.1m

  • Bloom Time

    Spring

  • Native To

    Mediterranean

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Drought

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Pyramidal

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Insignificant

  • Flower Color

    Yellow Green

  • Fruit Color

    Black

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Dark Green

  • Bark Color

    Gray

  • Fragrant Foliage

    Yes

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Container, Feature Plant, Foundation, Hedges, Herb / Vegetable, Mixed Border, Topiary / Bonsai / Espalier

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes