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An evergreen, aromatic tree or shrub, 20 to 40 ft, sometimes 60 ft high, usually of dense pyramidal shape, and formed of a cluster of erect, much- branched stems; young shoots and leaves glabrous. Leaves alternate, narrowly oval or ovate, 11⁄2 to 4 in. long, 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 in. wide, usually about equally tapered to each end, of firm texture, dark glossy green, often with wavy margins; stalk 1⁄8 to 1⁄3 in. long. Flowers greenish yellow, small, very shortly stalked, produced in small umbels in the uppermost leaf-axils; the sexes on different trees. Fruits globose or slightly oval, shining, black, 1⁄2 in. long.
Native of the Mediterranean region; cultivated in Britain since the 16th century, probably before. It is quite hardy at Kew, although occasionally browned by hard winters. This is the true ‘laurel’ of the ancients, and the one whose leaves were used to make crowns for triumphant heroes, and the fruiting sprays to make wreaths for distinguished poets (poets laureate). It is interesting to note in the latter connection that the term ‘bachelor’ as applied to the recipient of degrees, has been derived through the French bachelier from ‘baccalaureus’, i.e., laurel-berry. Nowadays the leaves are put to a more prosaic use, and are commonly used for flavouring stews, soups, and sauces. It has no relationship with common or cherry laurel (see Prunus laurocerasus), or with the Alexandrian laurel (see Danaë racemosa).
The bay laurel bears clipping well, and is very largely grown in tubs and pots on the continent as formal standards or pyramids for the decoration of entrances to mansions, hotels, etc. At Opatija, on the East Istrian coast, and at Rijeka across the Bay of Quarnero, there are, or were, beautiful woods of primeval bay laurel; in these places, growing on rocky sites, they form thickets of slender stems 50 ft. high.
specimens: Regent’s Park, London, 33 × 23⁄4 ft (1978); Kingston Lacy, Dorset, 48 × 23⁄4 + 21⁄2 ft (1983); ‘Powys’, Sidmouth, Devon, 46 × 31⁄4 ft (1979); Margam Park, Port Talbot, W. Glam., 69 × 3 ft + other stems and 62 × 31⁄2 ft with other stems (1985).
† cv. ‘Aurea’. – This cultivar, not mentioned in the original printing of 1973, is quite an effective golden-leaved evergreen, especially in winter.
L. nobilis var. undulata Meissn