Bay Grafted on Rootstock?
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Mike Hills
Posted on: September 10, 1999

In our public demonstration and education herb garden here in Phoenix, we have 2 bay trees (Laurus nobilis) that are doing fairly well, considering our heat and cold extremes and our alkaline water and soil. The trees were planted in our demo garden from 5 gallon nursery stock purchased locally about 5 years ago. We have had a lot of problems with both of these small trees constantly sprouting suckers from underground around the base of the tree. We usually keep them trimmed off, but noticed something peculiar this past weekend that prompts this question.

Are bay trees ever grafted – one cultivar or species for the top and another for root system? We have never heard of this, but thought we should check.

The leaves on the fast growing suckers have somewhat toothed edges that are also slightly wavy. The leaves on the upper limbs are not toothed, and the edges are smooth, not wavy – we checked both immature and older leaves on the upper limbs. Also, the two types of leaves smell quite different – the upper leaves smell more like we all think of "true bay", while the smell from the sucker leaves is not quite correct.

We have never heard of the practice of grafting bay. However, because there are a number of cultivars that are propagated vegetatively and it is not inconceivable that named cultivars are being grafted on seed grown rootstock. Two cultivars known to the industry are the narrow-leaf form ‘Angustifolius’ and the golden form, ‘Aureus’.

It is also possible that you are seeing some of the natural variation in the leaves of the plant. We have seen variation in leaf shape, leaf edges, size, and scent on a single plant. It would not surprise us to find that the leaves of the young suckers appear to be slightly different from the more mature leaves. With time these sucker growths may look and smell more like the rest of the plant.

If your plant is grafted, you should see evidence of the union near the base. Check for an enlarged, scarred region.

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