Sunday, 10 February 2013

Laurels, Laurels and Laurels

I noticed yesterday that Spotted Laurels were in fruit, and I reflected on the confusion caused by the word "laurel". The true Laurel, Laurus nobilis, otherwise known as Bay, is a well known shrub grown for ornament and culinary use and belongs to the Lauraceae Family. It is the plant once used to create laurel wreaths in Ancient Greece.

Then there is the completely unrelated Spotted Laurel, Aucuba japonica, a member of the Cornaceae Family. Its flowers are rarely noticed, being small, dull and often hidden by the foliage. The leaves are naturally dark green but the variety with yellow spots is the most commonly grown and it was this which caught my attention yesterday. It hails from Japan but, despite being tough, it rarely becomes naturalised in Britain.

Spotted Laurel in fruit, Northampton, 9 February, 2013

Cherry Laurel, Northampton, 9 February, 2013
Often confused with Spotted Laurel is Cherry Laurel. This is a member of the Rose Family (Rosaceae) and is grouped with the true cherries (Prunus species) as Prunus laurocerasus. It is this plant, with leaves laced with cyanide, which I generally used for "knocking out" insects; providing they are released within a short time the insects generally recover and resume their lives. It bears racemes of creamy-white flowers but they are hardly exciting. As the photographs show, the leaves of Cherry Laurel have perfectly smooth edges whereas those of Spotted Laurel are partially serrated.

Then there is the Spurge Laurel, about which I wrote on 18 December. This belongs to the  Thymeleaceae Family and is therefore unrelated to any of the other "laurels" mentioned in this blog! Around the world dozens of plants are known as laurels, generally because they bear similarly-shaped leaves. Small wonder that confusion can arise and, for anyone irritated by Latin names, laurels make their value clear.

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