Sweet Bay (Laurus Nobilis): The Herb of Frankenstein

comments (9) May 1st, 2010

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ChrisMcLaughlin Chris McLaughlin, contributor
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This dude is about 25 feet tall and in one of my garden beds.
Take a look at the size of those trunks. They would make some serious clubs. I mean if someone needed a club for something.
Oh, sure, Sweet Bay starts out looking innocent enough...
(This one isnt my bay tree)
Photo by xueexugg under the Creative Commona Attribution License 2.0.
This dude is about 25 feet tall and in one of my garden beds.Click To Enlarge

This dude is about 25 feet tall and in one of my garden beds.

Photo: Chris McLaughlin

Some of you know that my one of the biggest plant-love affairs I've had in my gardening past is with herbs. In fact, many years ago I was so smitten that I grew almost soley herbs and tomatoes among my perennial plants.

Sweet Bay or Laurus nobilis is an herb I've always had on hand mainly because I loved to cook with it. But it was also a very shrubby plant that contrasted nicely with the tender perennial herbs in my collection. It gave my garden texture (and I'm all about texture).

At that time I always grew my bay trees in containers. I've always described Sweet Bay as compact and mild-mannered. That was before I planted one into the ground. This is the first house we've lived in where I've actaully planted a bay tree into one of the raised beds. I decided to do it because I had this lovely open spot right in between one of my compost bins and the fence. What better shrub to plant than a handsome little bay tree?

Yeah, well give a guy's roots a little room, right? My "little" bay shrub is now a rather substantial tree that towers about 25 feet into the sky. To be honest it no longer has that herb "feel" at this point, but more like a shade tree that happens to able to flavor spaghetti sauce. Its trunk and branches are thick things and quite unflappable. Truth be told I would still decribe its attitude as mild-mannered. But in a baby Godzilla sort of way.

I know what you're all thinking...and you would be wrong. No, I did not accidentally plant a California Bay tree or Umbellularia californica as I am now super-savvy on the difference between the two having had to arge with some dude at a local nursery on the subject. In fact, it was when I was on the hunt for this very tree that I ran into the gentleman who insisted on trying to sell me the California native, instead. He insisted it was the same exact plant. I insisted it was not. He glared at me. I glared at him.

That lead to me researching the topic to death and wanting to find out the guy's address so I could send him a dissertation on the two plants. It took great restraint, but I resisted (well, that and I couldn't remember the dude's name for the life of me).

Anyway, just a little tip from me to you. In mild winter areas, Laurus nobilis can lay some serious claim to the ground you sink it into.

posted in: herbs, Sweet Bay, Laurus nobilis

Comments (9)

Addassamari writes: Thanks for the tip. I was just talking with my Mom about potting up a bay tree, er shrub, so that I can have a plant. She reminded me that they can get very tall, up to 10 feet or more. Well, I will be potting. I guess it is a shrub in a pot and a tree in the ground.
Posted: 7:38 pm on June 28th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: et2007 ~ Honestly, if you want to be certain, I would go to a reputable nursery (not garden center) and they'll be able to direct you to the right plant.
Posted: 9:44 pm on May 4th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: cookinwithherbs ~ LOLOLOL...yes, well I tend ti get colorful with my plant descriptions. Bays are indeed, noble and I've always loved them. Fortunately, it shades part of one of my compost bins instead of the herb garden. I truly enjoy this handsome tree.
Posted: 9:40 pm on May 4th
et2007 writes: Hi ChrisMcLaughlin,
Most greenhouse label laurel nobilis but I just bought one that label sweet bay, I'm searching info. on how to grow them and find that California sweet bay is poison, they look the same to me. Please share your knowledge between the two, I can't identify by the pictures I google. Thanks.
Posted: 5:55 pm on May 4th
et2007 writes: Hi ChrisMcLaughlin,
Most greenhouse label laurel nobilis but I just bought one that only label sweet bay, they look alike to me. I'm searching info. to grow them and find that the California sweet bay is poison, my question is how can you identify the two? Please share your knowledge, the picture I google not helping. Thanks
Posted: 5:44 pm on May 4th
cookinwithherbs writes: your title made me read your post! i believe bay to be a noble herb--not at all to be used in the same sentence as frankinstein! you are lucky to have such a big bay tree outside--wowee! i have to bring mine in and out in a pot. you should feel blessed--although shade in the herb garden is generally not what we want.
for some yummy herb recipe look at my bay herb of the year 2009 post!
happy herbing!
Posted: 5:07 pm on May 4th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: WhatsTheMuck ~ Yeah, I've heard that gardeners in other zones need to bring them in to survive, which is why this bay-on-steroids cracks me up. I have to mention that we do get frost here regularly - just not be for long periods nor as cold as other zones.

In the winter we see 32 degrees a lot and 26 degrees here and there. But clearly it isn't enough to deter my big guy here!
Posted: 12:09 pm on May 4th
WhatsTheMuck writes: Clarification on my previous post: Keep it indoors during frost season if you are in a frost zone (but outside the rest of the time).
Posted: 12:08 am on May 4th
WhatsTheMuck writes: In Zone 7, I have had bay laurel survive winters outside on the deck, close to the house, but only because the winters were rather mild for several years. Killed it dead two years ago, during the first of a series of Sent From Hell Winters, and am now trying to root yet another cutting from a friend who keeps hers indoors. If you want to constrain the beast, keep it in a pot, shake out the root ball at the end of the season, prune the roots, and repot (then keep it indoors if you are in a frost zone). That is what I used to do until I got cocky due to recent mild winters. Afraid this is what I will have to do from now on (where's that dagnab global warming when I need it???)
Posted: 11:49 pm on May 3rd
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