18. Bay Laurel

(Laurus nobilis)

Other Common Names: true laurel, sweet laurel, laurel tree, Grecian laurel, bay tree

Family: Lauraceae

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Sniff these trees. Scratch a leaf or twig with your fingernail and inhale the spritely fragrance of sweet bay, renowned for its use as a flavoring since ancient Grecian times. The two multitrunked trees next to Sieg Hall's entrance are the largest in Washington, the taller being 40 feet (12.2 meters). They're both males, cutting-grown specimens, so they are genetically identical to most of the other bay laurels planted locally. Like the Cork Oak, this is a Mediterranean native that suffers damage in severely cold winters. As an element in Italian, formal, or herbal gardens, bay laurels are indispensible.  The fruit of the laurel is a small black berry about a half inch (one centimeter) long containing a single seed.

In Chinese folklore there is a great laurel tree on the moon, and the Chinese name for the laurel translates to “moon laurel”. A laurel wreath was presented to the victors of athletic competitions, ancient Olympics, and poetic meets in ancient Greece. The Bay Laurel is highly resistant to pests and diseases, and it is said to protect neighboring plants from these pathogens as well. The highly aromatic leaves can be used as an insect repellent and can be used to protect stored grains and beans from weevils. The wood is sweetly scented and is used as a veneer, for walking sticks, and for friction sticks for starting fires.

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