Laurus nobilis Identification
Answered by: Inge Poot
Question from: Julie Sturrock
Posted on: August 12, 2007

I have a bush in my garden in Scotland in a very sunny and protected spot. My mother gave it to me and said that it was a sweet bay to replace

the one I had left in a previous house. I have been wary about using it as a culinary herb because although the leaves are a similar shape and colour the edges of the leaves are not smooth. I would be very grateful if you could explain how to identify a Laurus nobilis.

You are right to be cautious! There are many shrubs and small trees that have leaves very similar to Laurus nobilis, but some such as the mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia are very poisonous.

Laurus nobilis varies a great deal and some forms of the species have even been given varietal names, solely on the basis of leaf shape. For instance there is the variety salicifolia with very narrow leaves with an undulating edge. Then there is the variety undulata with wavy-edged leaves. But none of the leaves have a toothed edge. If your plant has rounded toothed leaves it may be a bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica, a common mix-up.

Do crush a leaf and see if it has the characteristic bay leaf scent. If you don’t trust yourself to know the scent, then the only way to be absolutely sure, is to wait until the shrub flowers. The flowers are usually bisexual, but unisexual flowers do occur. They are about one centimetre across, in clusters below the tip of the flowering branch, pale yellow, with 4 perianth parts (sepals and petals) and 12 or more stamens that are longer than the rounded, slightly cupped, leathery perianth parts. If present, there is one pistil, the female part of the flower. Flowers with female parts will eventually produce about 1 cm dark purple to black berries.

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