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Swamp bay Persea palustris
Copyright by: George D. Gann
General Landscape Uses:
Primarily recommended for natural landscapes and habitat restorations. Also an accent tree in wet, mucky areas.
Ecological Restoration Notes: A relatively common element of wetland thickets and swamps.
Grown by one or two native plant nurseries in South Florida.
Description: Small to medium tree with a round-topped to cylindrical crown. Trunk 6-18 inches in diameter, often leaning. Bark reddish-brown, thick, irregularly furrowed. Leaves bright shiny green above, paler beneath, 2-4 inches long, aromatic when crushed, often contorted by galls.
Dimensions: Typically 15-25 feet in height, and sometimes more. Usually taller than broad.
Growth Rate: Moderate.
Eastern and southeastern United States west to Texas and south to the Monroe County Keys; Bahamas and Mexico. Very rare in the Monroe County Keys on Big Pine Key. 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. paustris from wetlands, P. borbonia from coastal and mesic sites, and P. humilis from scrub and other dry habitats.
Soils: Seasonally wet, moderately well-drained to poorly-drained organic soils.
Nutritional Requirements: Moderate to high; grows best with some organic content and may languish in nutrient poor soils.
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: Low; requires moist to wet soils and is intolerant of long periods of drought.
Light Requirements: Full sun.
Flower Color: Greenish.
Flower Characteristics: Inconspicuous.
Flowering Season: Spring to early summer.
Fruit: Oblong dark blue to almost black drupe, about 1/2" in diameter.
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: Miami-Dade County Landscape Manual (2005).
Comments: The long shaggy hairs on the leaves of swamp bay make this species easy to distinguish from red bay (Persea borbonia) throughout most of its range. However, in extreme southern Florida plants may have few hairs or they may fall off, causing some plants to by misidentified as red bay.