Monday, 4 May 2015

There are laurels and there are laurels.

Some months ago I made space in a blog to talk about laurels. I've since been giving the subject more thought.

The true laurel, which features so prominently in Greek, Roman and biblical cultures (Didn't Joan bring some laurel back to the arc to prove that France was dry land or something?), is Laurus communis, otherwise known as Bay or Bay Laurel. It gives its name to the Laurel Family, Lauraceae. Although native to the Mediterranean region it is naturalised here and there in mild spots on Britain's south coast.

We decided to have a Bay Tree this year instead of a traditional Christmas Tree. It now needs to find a place in the garden.

The Spotted Laurel, Aucuba japonica, is not at all related, being a member of the Dogwood Family, Cornaceae.

Aucuba japonica in Chaucer Way,
Daventry. 10 February, 2015

Though widely grown it is certainly not for its inconspicuous brownish flowers, nor for its fruits, but it brightens shrubberies throughout Britain with its yellow-blotched leaves. It has a place in the garden - but I have had no difficulty in restraining myself from growing it.

It is rarely self-sown.

Spurge-laurel, Daphne laureola. Byfield Northants.
18 February, 2014
Then there is Spurge Laurel, Daphne laureola. I will refrain from going into detail regarding this shrub as it has been mentioned in my blogs on previous occasions. Neither a spurge nor a laurel it is a member of the Thymelaeaceae, the Spurge Flax Family (Thymelaea itself is a genus of about 30 shrubs found along the Mediterranean coastline and on into central Asia). Like the plants already mentioned, it has leathery, ovate (in this case linear-ovate) leaves. Although generally scarce in Northants, this native plant is common in the Byfield area.

The Cherry Laurel, Prunus laurocerasus, frequently gets a mention in my blogs, not least because I still occasionally make use of its cyanide-laced leaves. When fresh and chopped up like garden mint they will kill an insect quite quickly although if the specimen is examined and then promptly released recovery can be rapid. Apparently it was once used pharmaceutically as a sedative! It is a native of S.E Europe but is often well naturalised in shrubberies and woodland edges.

It is frequently grown as a hedging plant in which case constant clipping means its flowers are not seen. These are borne in racemes and are quite heavily scented, although not everyone appreciates the rather cloying smell. These are followed by black berries.

Portuguese Laurel in Brown's Road, Daventry.
17 March, 2015

Closely related to the Cherry Laurel is the Portuguese Laurel, Prunus lusitanica (Lusitania was a Roman Iberian province covering most of modern Portugal). Like the Cherry Laurel it has leathery evergreen leaves but they are smaller and have serrate, i.e. saw-edged, margins. 

Incidentally Laurel Canyon, in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles, and well-known in music, film and literature, gets its name from the Californian Bay Laurel, Umbellularia californica. I need hardly add that is unrelated to the other laurels I have mentioned.

Then there is Stan...

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