There are 150 species of bays in Genus Persea. Redbay (Persea borbonia) is one of them. This plant is native to the Southeastern United States and grows as a small tree or large shrub.
Leaves are 3 to 6 inches long, lance-shaped, and bright green to dark green. As shown below, the upper leaf surface is shiny and darker than the bottom surface. Leaves are alternately arranged on each branch.
A good way to identify the tree is to look for dry leaves hanging from stems, like those in the photograph at left. When crushed, these leaves emit a spicy smell and can be used as a condiment.
Another good way to identify redbay is to look for galls on the leaves. As shown, galls distort the shape of leaves. The insect that creates these galls is a psyllid (a jumping plant louse). It is speculated that a female psyllid lays her eggs under the epidermis of leaves. As a hatched nymph begins sucking plant sap, the leaf margin curls and envelops the nymph in a pocket-like gall.
Redbay trees produce fruits that are small, blue or black drupes. Birds eat the fruits, and deer and bears eat both the leaves and fruits.
Although the plant is not widely used today for medicinal purposes, Native American Seminoles once used it as an emetic, to induce vomiting.
Today, because the wood is hard and strong, redbay lumber is used in building boats and cabinets. Additionally, redbay trees are often cultivated as ornamentals.
© Photographs and text by Susan Leach Snyder (Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer).
Please report errors to Susan Snyder @ firstname.lastname@example.org
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