Laurus nobilis (Sweet Bay) - Sweet Bay is a moderately slow growing dense evergreen shrub or small tree that reaches 10'-25' tall and almost as wide with very aromatic elliptical 3- to 5-inch-long leathery dark green leaves. The greenish-yellow flowers in early summer are not particularly ornamental and are followed by ½ inch wide dark green-to-black berries that form on female trees (this is a dioecious species) in the fall.
Grows in sun or shade but seems to do best in cool coastal sun or light shade inland, with little or regular irrigation but not to the point or overly wet soil – tolerates heavy soils so long as they drain well. It is a frost hardy plant that can grow in areas that experience temperatures down to at least 10 degrees F and is noted for tolerance of conditions in coastal plantings. A great tree or trimmed hedge or topiary subject for the dry or irrigated garden and the leaves can be used in cooking and oil from the fruit is used in making perfume.
This tree was one of the main components, with the common holly (Ilex aquifolium), of extensive prehistoric laurel forests that covered much of the area around the Mediterranean Sea basin, but these forests retreated beginning in the drier Pliocene era and continued until little remained but relict populations by the end of Pleistocene era, approximately ten thousand years ago. These extant populations exist in in southern Turkey, northern Syria, southern Spain, Portugal and northern Morocco. The name for the genus comes from the ancient name for the plant and the specific epithet is the Latin word for "noble" or "famous". The branches of this species were twisted into headpieces by ancient Greeks to crown victors and the word laurel is used to indicate prestige and is the root of such words as baccalaureate and poet laureate and well as used in phases such as "resting on one's laurels". Other common names include Bay Laurel, Bay Tree, Mediterranean Sweet Bay, True Laurel, Grecian Laurel, Laurel Tree, or just by the name "Laurel". This plant was introduced into cultivation as early as to Britain at least as early as 1650 and received the Royal Horticultural Society has given it the Award of Garden Merit in 1993.
The information about Laurus nobilis displayed on this page is based on research conducted in our nursery library and from online sources we consider reliable. We will also relate those observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery gardens and in other gardens that we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments we receive from others and welcome hearing from anyone who has additional information, particularly when they share cultural information that would aid others in growing it.