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Publication #ENH-595

Persea borbonia: Redbay1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2

Introduction

This handsome North American native evergreen tree can reach 50 feet in height with a comparable spread but is often seen somewhat shorter and wider, particularly when grown in the open in an urban area. The glossy, leathery, medium green, six-inch leaves emit a spicy fragrance when crushed and the inconspicuous, springtime flower clusters are followed by small, dark blue fruits which ripen in fall. These fruits are enjoyed by birds and squirrels and add to the tree's overall attractiveness. The trunk bears very showy, ridged, red-brown bark and frequently branches low to the ground forming a multi-stemmed habit similar to live oak, but it can be pruned to make a single, short central leader which would be most suitable for many urban plantings.

Figure 1. 

Mature Persea borbonia: Redbay


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General Information

Scientific name: Persea borbonia
Pronunciation: PER-see-uh bor-BOE-nee-uh
Common name(s): Redbay
Family: Lauraceae
USDA hardiness zones: 7B through 11 (Fig. 2)
Origin: native to North America
Invasive potential: weedy native
Uses: deck or patio; shade; specimen; street without sidewalk; reclamation; tree lawn 4-6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; highway median
Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the tree

Figure 2. 

Range


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Description

Height: 30 to 50 feet
Spread: 30 to 50 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: spreading, round
Crown density: dense
Growth rate: moderate
Texture: medium

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: ovate, lanceolate, oblong, elliptic (oval)
Leaf venation: pinnate, brachidodrome
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen, broadleaf evergreen, fragrant
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy

Flower

Flower color: green, white/cream/gray
Flower characteristics: not showy

Fruit

Fruit shape: oval, round
Fruit length: less than .5 inch
Fruit covering: fleshy
Fruit color: blue
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; showy; typically one trunk; thorns
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Breakage: susceptible to breakage
Current year twig color: green
Current year twig thickness: thick
Wood specific gravity: unknown

Culture

Light requirement: full sun, partial sun or partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; occasionally wet; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: high

Other

Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: yes
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Figure 3. 

Foliage


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Use and Management

Thriving on little care in full sun or partial shade, Redbay can tolerate a wide range of soils, from hot and dry to wet and swampy. Redbay is a rugged and adaptable plant suitable to many landscape applications. Unfortunately, the wood is reportedly brittle and subject to wind damage. Pruning to keep lateral branches less than half the diameter of the trunk will increase the tree's longevity and help prevent branches from separating from the trunk. The densely-foliated, spreading branches create a lush, billowly, rounded canopy making Redbay a wonderful shade tree. It can make a nice street tree planted on 20 to 25-foot centers but be sure to prune it properly as mentioned above. Plant with caution where cars will park or near sidewalks since birds love the fruit and often visit the tree, leaving their droppings on cars. The fruit can also be messy on cars and walks. Its ease of growth and neat, dense crown habit also make Redbay ideal for the low-maintenance and naturalized landscape. The dark brown, furrowed bark is particularly attractive on older specimens.

Propagation is by seed which germinate readily after several months in the ground.

Pests and Diseases

Redbay is occasionally bothered by twig dieback. This can be caused by a boring insect which bores inside a small twig causing the leaves on the end of the twig to turn brown and hang on the tree. This can be bothersome to a nursery operator, but usually only causes cosmetic damage to landscape trees. Insect-caused galls can distort and disfigure the leaves but do not significantly harm the tree. Scale insects occasionally infest the twigs or leaves, followed by sooty mold.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH-595, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2006. Reviewed May 2011. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.


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U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.