Also known as bay laural, this aromatic evergreen shrub or small tree is native to  the Mediterranean region and a member of the laurel family, Lauraceae, that also includes sassafras, avocado, and cinnamon.  Plants grow up to 6-‘ in the wild but 5’ in a pot and have glossy, thick, leathery, dark green leaves that are 2-4″ long and elliptical to oval. In the spring, clusters of small greenish yellow male and female flowers appear in the leaf axils of different plants.  The flowers lack petals and are followed by dark purple or black, one-seeded berries the size of small grapes on female plants. The leaves are used fresh or dried as a culinary herb.  The ancient Greeks made wreaths of the leaves to crown the victors of games.  The trees can be pruned in various forms such as lollipops to provide interest and are attractive in borders and herb gardens.  The genus name, Laurus, is the ancient Latin name for the plant.  The specific epithet, nobilis, is the Latin word meaning excellent or noble. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Type: Woody perennial evergreen shrub or small tree

Bloom: Clusters of small yellow flowers produced in spring followed by shiny black or purple berries on female plants.

Size: 5’ (in pot)-60’ H x3-10′ W.

Light: Sun to partial shade.

Soil: Moderately rich, well-drained; pH 6.2.

Hardiness: Zones 7-10.

Care: Do not overwater.

Pests and Diseases: Susceptible to scale, bay sucker (Trioza alacris), and mildew.

Propagation: Semi-hardwood cuttings  in fall; layering; seeds difficult to germinate.

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By Karen

4 thoughts on “Plant Profile: Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis)”
    1. Jackie,
      Laurus was the name the Romans gave to the tree that we know as sweet bay. It was sacred to Apollo, Daphne turned into a laural tree to escape Apollo, and the Greeks and Romans used the leaves to make victory wreaths. The species name, nobilis, means renowned and the tree became a sign o glory, honor and greatness. The Latin for the verb praise is laudo but i don’t know of any connection with the tree. Thanks for asking.


  1. Interesting association: Laurel wreaths were also draped on those who succeeded in programmed study at the beginnings of secular universities in the late Medieval period. That tradition of hanging academics with laurel garlands is coopted from the ancient warriors, but this where the term “bacca- laureate” comes from.

    1. lisa,
      Thanks for your addition to the laurel wreath material. I love the historical background of plants and am especially interested in ancient through Renaissance culture.


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