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Red bay
Persea borbonia var. borbonia

Copyright by: George D. Gann

General Landscape Uses: Accent or specimen tree in residential and commerical landscapes.

Ecological Restoration Notes: A rather uncommon element of mesic coastal hammocks, rarer inland.

Availability: Grown by one or two native plant nurseries in South Florida.

Description: Medium or large tree with a round-topped to cylindrical and dense crown from a few stout, thick branches. Trunk 1-3 feet in diameter, often leaning. Bark brown, thick, roughened by many furrows and ridges. Leaves dark green above, waxy beneath, 3-5 inches long, aromatic when crushed, often contorted by galls.

Dimensions: Typically 20-40 feet in height in South Florida; to 77 feet in Florida. Sometimes as broad as tall or broader.

Growth Rate: Moderate.

Range: Southeastern United States west to Texas and south to Miami-Dade and Collier counties. Reported for the Monroe County Keys, but this perhaps represents a misidentification of P. palustris. For a digitized image of Elbert Little's Florida range map of P. borbonia in the broad sense, visit the Exploring Florida website. This map represents an amalgamation of P. borbonia from coastal and mesic sites, P. palustris from wetlands, and P. humilis from scrub and other dry habitats.

Plant Map Map of select IRC data from peninsular Florida.

 Map of suggested ZIP codes from South Florida north to southern Brevard, Osceola, Polk, and Pasco counties.

 Map of ZIP codes with habitat recommendations from the Monroe County Keys north to Martin and Charlotte counties.

Habitats: Primarily coastal hammocks but sometimes inland.

Soils: Moist, well-drained sandy or limestone soils, with humusy top layer.

Nutritional Requirements: Moderate; can grow in nutrient poor soils, but needs some organic content to thrive.

Salt Water Tolerance: Low; does not tolerate long-term flooding by salt or brackish water.

Salt Wind Tolerance: Moderate; grows near salt water, but is protected from direct salt spray by other vegetation.

Drought Tolerance: High; does not require any supplemental water once established.

Light Requirements: Full sun to light shade.

Flower Color: Whitish or greenish.

Flower Characteristics: Inconspicuous.

Flowering Season: Spring.

Fruit: Dark blue to nearly black shiny drupe, 1/2" long. Late summer to fall.

Wildlife and Ecology: Provides significant food and cover for wildlife. Larval host plant for palamedes swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) and spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) butterflies. Attracts bee pollinators.

Horticultural Notes: Can be grown from de-pulped seed. Plant right away; seeds do not store well. Sprinkle soil over the seed to just cover. Place container in light shade or full sun.

References: Schaefer & Tanner 1997

Comments: This handscome tree looks very similar to Virginia live oak (Quercus virginiana). Plants sold in the nursery trade as this species are often swamp bay (Persea palustris), a species that requires much wetter soils. The dried leaves can be used as a substitute for commercial bay leaves.

Copyright by: George D. Gann

Copyright by: George D. Gann

Copyright by: George D. Gann

Other data on Persea borbonia var. borbonia available from:

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