Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bay Laurel & California Laurel

Laurus nobilis
The Grecian Laurel is a native to the Mediterranean. Growing naturally it can make a very dense, moderate growing, pyramidal, medium-sized, evergreen tree. Some records include: fastest growth rate - 4 ( rarely over 2 ) feet; 20 years - 40 x 33 feet; largest on record - 82 x 50 feet with a trunk diameter of 5 feet. It can also make an excellent sheared hedge or topiary - trimming should be done in summer.
The firm, lance-shaped to oblong, leathery leaves are up to 5 x 1.3 inches in size. The foliage is glossy deep green above, pale green beneath.
The small yellowish flowers are followed by egg shaped, shiny black berries, up to 0.5 inches wide, on female trees.
The bark is dark gray and smooth.
The Grecian Laurel is normally hardy from zones 8 and south, is drought tolerant and grows well on any very fertile, well drained soil in full sun where rainfall exceeds 12 inches per year. The leaves are damaged at 10 F but it will quickly recover during spring. Colder temperatures may kill the plant to the base in which case the plant should be cut to near the ground in hope that it resprouts.
Plants grown in tree form should be pruned to a single leader and feathered and gradually limbed up. Insect pest and disease problems are rare.

* photo taken on Feb 2009 @ U.S. National Arboretum, D.C.

* photo taken on June 23 2013 @ U.S. National Arboretum, Washington, DC

* photo taken on Oct 21 2014 @ Smithsonian Inst., Washington, DC

* historical archive photoS

Some additional varieties include:

Hardier form that will grow in zone 7.

Foliage is yellow at first.

'Celtic Queen'
Fast growing - can grow to 8 feet tall in 3 years and is hardy north to zone 7, even tolerating as low as -4F.
It is even hardy north to zone 5 if grown as a perennial

Broader green foliage that is blotched with gold and gray-green.

A male form that grows without training into a large tree. It is fast growing, with rates up to 4 feet being recorded.
Has long medium green leaves bloched with yellow, borne on red shoots.

Laurus azorica ( Canary Laurel )
Native to the Canary and Azore Islands, it can grow very large to 120 feet tall with a trunk diameter up to 5 feet. It is an impressive tree and some have already reached up to 50 feet in Los Angeles and in England.
The leaves, up to 8.5 x 3 inches, are glossy deep green and aromatic.
It is cold hardy north to Seattle on the West Coast and is rated zone 8 - 11 ( with more testing needed )

Umbellularia californica ( California Laurel )
A dense, broad spreading, large, massive evergreen tree native to coastal Oregon and California. Some records include: fastest recorded growth rate - 4 feet; 20 years - 33 feet ( avg ); 36 years - 80 feet; largest on record - 185 x 100 feet with a trunk diameter of 16 feet. Among the largest California Laurels ever known grows at Grass Valley, OR. California Laurel is one of America most beautiful large trees. It also thrives in much of Great Britain where trees have already reached very large sizes. Long lived and trouble free; the California Laurel can live up to 300 years.
Unlike Eucalyptus; California Laurel is not flammable.
The aromatic, smooth edged elliptical leaves are up to 6 x 1.5 inches in size.
The aromatic, leathery foliage is glossy deep green above, dull light green beneath and persists up to 5 years.
Just like Bay Laurel, the leaves can be used to flavor food. The leaves of the California Laurel are more strongly flavored than the Bay Laurel but are used in a similar way. When used to flavor food, they are added to the cooking pot for the duration of cooking then immediately before serving they are removed. They are not eaten as they are too leathery however when dried, they can be ground to powder and used for flavoring. The leaves can be used year round and can even be used to make tea. The leaves have a natural insecticidal compound that is safe for humans; stored with food they can repel insects. The oil when extracted from the leaves, can be used as a natural insecticide. The aromatic leaves are sometimes also added to water in saunas and sweat lodges.
The 0.6 inch yellow flowers are borne in loose axilliary clusters containing up to 10 during late winter and early spring.
The olive-like fruits, up to an inch wide, are green ripening in late autumn to purple. Inside the fruits is an edible nut. The nuts are somewhat tasty when roasted like Peanuts.
The bark is pale gray to greenish-brown and smooth on young trees. The bark on older trees is red brown to dark brown, and is scaly cracking into rectangular plates.
The hard, heavy lumber is valuable for cabinet making, panelling, boat making, bowls and souvenirs. The wood has interesting curly grain patterns and polishes to rich brown in color. Large lumber sized trees are becomming rare.
Hardy zones 7 to 10 in sun or shade on deep, moist, fertile, well drained soil with a PH of 5.7 to 7.5. There is no cold damage at 10 F, but the foliage is burnt at 0 F. California Laurel prefers a site somewhat sheltered from excessive wind. To grow well without being dependent on irrigation, the California Laurel requires 30+ inches of rainfall or precip during an average year. It should be tested in the eastern U.S. though I do not know of any current existing plants there.
Most of it's roots are within the top 3 feet of soil and this tree sprouts readily after fire. Commonly planted along streets and in parks on the U.S. west coast, it is not known to grow in the east.
California Laurel is prone to Sudden Oak Death where this disease is prevalent.
Propagation can either be from seed or half hardened cuttings. Filing the seed to allow water to penetrate before sowing greatly enhances germination.

* photo taken by John D. Guthrie @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

* photo taken by E.H. Morton @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
* historical archive photos

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