Lauraceae (laurel family) Laurus

Laurus nobilis Grecian laurel, sweet bay

Laurus nobilis. From An Illustrated Manual of Pacific Coast Trees, Howard E. McMinn & Evelyn Maino

The laurel wreath used to be given to successful poets at the Pythian games that were held in ancient Greece in honor of Apollo, and later Roman generals liked to be crowned with laurel, and the leaves themselves are still worked into designs connected with the Olympic games. We still recognize “laureates” today. In Greek, the word for laurel is daphne, which was also the name of a nymph, and this is how it came about. One time Apollo saw Daphne going by and chased after her, but the resourceful nymph, whose father was a river-god, got Dad to change her into a tree. Evidently she preferred this. At that time, Apollo used to keep the hair out of his eyes with a headband made of any kind of greenery, but after the striking experience of her skin turning to bark as he got his hands on her, he switched exclusively to garlands from the new tree remarking, "Well, since you can’t be my wife you can certainly be my tree." In any case, by the time of Pliny (23–79 AD), according to his Natural History, the laurel was still dedicated to Apollo.

The leaves, which need scrubbing, have a fragrance that they retain when dried and are used in flavoring soups and stews. Eating laurel leaves, Roman authors said, enabled one to foresee the future. California laurel, Umbellularia californica, is used for cooking too, and may be sold in packages labeled simply Bay Leaves, but a whole leaf is too much. Laurel has small yellowish flowers followed by ½-inch black berries.

Specimens can be seen on Santa Teresa Street, three each at the northeast and northwest corners of Lagunita Court dormitory. A specimen with six trunks is on the southeast side of the Angel of Grief (northeast of the Mausoleum). Twenty laurels (in two rows of 10) are between Lantana and Castaño halls, on the west side. Several more are between those and the Manzanita Dining Commons.

Several plants of a dwarf selection are planted near the intersection of Lasuen and Serra malls, near the corner of Dohrmann Grove, along with Frangula californica and Pittosporum undulatum. They were in bloom February 2005.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. John Rawlings added the dwarf form in 2005.