red bay
Persea palustris (Raf.) Sarg.
  • LEAVES: persistent, alternate, simple; elliptic to oblong, tapering at both ends, up to ca. 4” long by 2” wide; aromatic; dark green and glabrous above, pale green below with long shaggy pubescence at least along midrib and major lateral veins; leaves often misshapen by fungal infection; galls are common and conspicuous in Persea
  • FLOWER: perfect (bisexual), small, perianth cup-shaped, yellowish; flowers born in axillary cymes, the penduncles much longer than the petioles of associated leaves; flowering May-June
  • FRUIT: dark blue oblong drupe to 0.5” long, calyx persistent on fruit; fruit maturing September to October
  • TWIGS: shaggy pubescent when young, year-old twigs nearly glabrous, dark brown; terminal bud naked, reddish brown, densely hairy, ovoid, to ca. 0.25” long
  • BARK: dark reddish brown, deep irregular fissures, flat scaly ridges on older trees
  • FORM: small evergreen tree
  • HABITAT: baygalls, wet longleaf pine flatwoods, and seepage bogs on older coastal plain land surfaces; live oak natural levee forests and barrier island live oak forests in the coastal zone
  • WETLAND DESIGNATION: Facultative Wetland (FACW): Usually occurs in wetlands, but may occur in non-wetlands of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast Plain Region
  • RANGE: Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plains [Flora of North America distribution]
  • USES:wood not of commercial importance, used locally for cabinetry, interior finish, and boat building; leaves used in cooking as a substitute for bay laurel (Laurus nobilis L.) leaves
  • WILDLIFE: moderate quality deer browse; seed is an important winter food for bobwhite quail in longleaf pine regions
  • Best Recognition Features:
    1. small evergreen shrub to tree, very common in acidic seepage wetlands, but also in coastal hammocks
    2. elliptic, persistent, aromatic leaves which are glossy and dark green above, pale beneath
    3. often some leaves on a given plant will exhibit galls and some deformity

    Sassafras and the red bays (Persea spp.) are now in danger of die-backs by an exotic fungus: Raffaelea lauricola (laurel wilt pathogen) transferred from tree to tree by ambrosia beetles. Information on the fungus and the implications of infection are available from the USDA Forest Service HERE