Bay Tree Varieties – Recognizing Different Kinds Of Bay Tree

Bay Tree Varieties – Recognizing Different Kinds Of Bay Tree

The Mediterranean tree known as bay laurel, or Laurus noblilis, is the original bay that you call sweet bay, bay laurel, or Grecian laurel. This is the one you are looking for to scent your stews, soups and other culinary creations. Are there other bay tree varieties? If so, are other bay tree types edible? There are actually several different kinds of bay tree. Read on to find out about other types of bay and additional bay tree information.

Bay Tree Information

In Florida, there are several types of bay, but they are not of the same genus as L. nobilis. They do, however, look remarkably similar with their large, elliptical, evergreen leaves. They also grow in overlapping habitats leading to confusion. These different kinds of bay tree are bay in name only, such as red bay, loblolly bay and swamp bay.

Luckily, they have certain features that make them identifiable. For instance, Magnolia grandiflora, which is known as southern magnolia or bull bay, and Persea borbonia, known as red bay, are found in uplands. Others, like Gordonia lasianthus, or loblolly bay, and Magnolia virginiana (sweetbay) are commonly found in wetlands. M. virginiana and P. borbonia also have bluish-grey lower leaf surfaces while the others do not. Again, none of these are to be confused with L. nobilis.

Other Bay Tree Varieties

L. nobilis is the Mediterranean tree also known as bay laurel that is used to flavor foods. It is also the bay tree type used by the ancient Romans to make ‘laurels,’ the leafy crown made to symbolize victory.

In California, there is another “bay” tree called Umbellularis californica, or California bay. It has been used and sold commercially as L. It also has the same typical bay flavor and aroma, but is harsher in flavor. U. californica can, however, be used as a substitute for common bay laurel (L. nobilis) in cooking.

The two trees look remarkably similar; both are evergreens with similar leaves, although California bay’s leaves are a bit longer. Neither will emit much of an aroma unless crushed and even then they smell comparable, although California bay has a more intense aroma. So intense it is sometimes called the “headache tree.”

To truly identify which one is which, examine the fruit and flowers whenever possible. California bay fruit is ½-3/4 inches (1-2 cm.) across; bay laurel looks similar but half that size. If you get a chance to look at the flowers, you will notice that California bay has both stamens and pistils, so it can produce fruit. Bay laurel only has female flowers, with one pistil on some trees, and male flowers with just stamens on other trees. You may need a hand lens to really inspect the flowers for their sex organs, but if you see both a pistil and a ring of stamens, you’ve got a California bay. If not, it’s a bay laurel.

Can all bay tree leaves be used in cooking?

There are just ornamental versions. If you crush a leaf, it should smell of bay if it is the edible version. If not, it will smell of nothing. If there is a Latin term on the label, the edible version is called Laurus Nobilis.

Likewise, what can you do with bay leaves? To use bay leaves, add 1 or 2 whole leaves to slow-cooking meals like casseroles, stews, soups, marinades, and pasta sauces so they can release their unique flavor during the cooking process. You can also steam vegetables, fish, seafood, and chicken with a few bay leaves for a nice flavor.

Similarly one may ask, are bay leaves poisonous to eat?

This is not true bay leaves may be eaten without toxic effect. However, they remain unpleasantly stiff even after thorough cooking, and if swallowed whole or in large pieces, they may pose a risk of harming the digestive tract or causing choking.

How do you preserve bay leaves for cooking?

Drying bay leaves in a microwave oven

  1. Rinse the bay leaves in cool water to remove dirt.
  2. Pat them dry with a paper towel.
  3. Remove their stems.
  4. Arrange them in a single layer on a microwaveable plate.
  5. Place them in the microwave and let them dry for thirty seconds. Flip them over and let them dry again.

Bay Laurel Care

Bay laurel can be grown as a pruned garden shrub or full-sized landscape tree in any rich, moist, and well-drained soil. More often (and always, in cold climates) it is grown in a pot filled with general-purpose potting mix.

Potted bay laurel plants are moved often between indoor and outdoor locations as the seasonal weather dictates. They make attractive houseplants but they benefit from some summer sun it's a good idea to move houseplants out in the sunshine in the summer.


If you grow your bay tree indoors, keep it near a sunny window for the winter. Avoid exposure to both drafts and heat from appliances. Outdoor plants prefer part shade but will tolerate full sun. In areas with hot, dry summers, some afternoon shade is ideal.

If grow the plant to provide leaves for cooking, they produce the best flavor if the plant is given full sun for at least a portion of the year.

This tree is not too particular about soil type, but it must be well-draining. It will do equally well in acidic and alkaline soils. Container plants can be grown in ordinary commercial potting mix. Plant your bay tree at the same depth as it was planted in its original pot.


Bay roots are very shallow, and frequent watering may be necessary during dry spells. Use caution when weeding or cultivating around the base of the tree. Water it regularly but always allow the soil to dry out between waterings, so the roots don’t rot.   Although your bay tree will probably just go dormant and drop a few leaves, you do not want its soil to remain dry for extended periods.

Temperature and Humidity

Bay is only hardy in USDA hardiness zones 8 through 10. In cooler areas, bring it indoors for the winter and give it relatively cool conditions. However, you may have trouble keeping your indoor bay tree from drying out in the low humidity of your home. When it signals trouble by dropping a few leaves, use the leaves in cooking and begin misting the tree regularly with water.


Since bay laurel is slow-growing, it doesn’t require a great deal of food. Plants in containers need some supplemental fertilizer. Feed a container-grown bay plant in the spring and again in mid-summer, using a balanced organic fertilizer, such as fish emulsion and kelp. It also helps to refresh the top couple of inches of soil each spring, being careful not to hurt the shallow roots.

Cooking With Bay Leaves

Because the leaves do not soften as they cook, bay leaves are added to simmering sauces or included in a braising liquid, and then removed before serving. The leaves have sharp points that can cut the mouth, cause choking, or even slice into the digestive tract. Simply add the whole dried leaf to the recipe and take out once the dish is finished cooking. If using the fresh, California bay leaves, add half of the amount called for (which may mean tearing a leaf in half).

Bay leaves should be added at the beginning of cooking as the longer they simmer, the more time they have to release flavor and allow it to infuse the dish. In addition to simmering in soups and stews, bay leaves are great for stuffing into the cavity of a chicken before roasting it, and can also be added to the liquid when cooking rice. When ground into a powder, bay leaf is used similarly to a spice.

Watch the video: All About Sweet Bay Laurel Tree or Laurus nobilis Bay Leaves