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Publication #FOR 260

Persea palustris, Swamp Bay1

Michael G. Andreu, Melissa H. Friedman, Mary McKenzie, and Heather V. Quintana2

Family

Lauraceae, laurel family.

Genus

Persea was first used by Theophrastus and Hippocrates when naming an Egyptian tree, the species of which is unknown to us today.

Species

The species name, palustris, means "of the swamp," indicating that this tree grows in wet areas.

Common Name

swamp bay, swamp red bay

The word "bay" comes from the Latin word bacca, which refers to the fruit of this species.

Description

The taxonomy of this native evergreen tree has been somewhat controversial. Some lump swamp bay together with its close relative red bay (Persea borbonia), due to their similar appearance. However, the two species are easily distinguishable from one another and are treated as such in Florida. Swamp bay is found in hydric areas, such as swamps, wet flatwoods, and on the edges of canals and marshes, whereas red bay frequents mesic sites. The native range of swamp bay extends from Virginia south throughout peninsula Florida and west to Texas. It can grow up to 40 feet tall in partial shade or full sun. Leaves are simple and alternate and grow from 2 to 8 inches long. They are lanceolate or a slightly more elongated elliptical shape and have smooth or entire margins. The topside of the leaf is dark green and shiny, while the bottom side is a silvery white color with an orange tinge from pubescence that occurs primarily along the mid vein; distinguishing it from red bay, which lacks this rusty color and concentrated pubescence. Leaves have a distinct bay aroma when crushed. The bark ranges from red to grayish-brown and flower blooms are white and inconspicuous. Fruits are dark blue to black, 3/8 to 5/8 inch drupes, and appear on hairy reddish stalks in the summer.

Figure 1. 

Leaves of Persea palustris.


Credit:

CA Floristics, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Allergen

Like all bays, swamp bay is only slightly allergenic.

Applications

Medicinal

The root of swamp bay was used by the Creek Indians to discharge fluid from the bowels, and the Choctaws used a decoction of swamp bay to treat fevers by inducing perspiration.

Wildlife

Fruit from the tree serves as a good food source for birds and mammals, and the leaves are eaten by larvae of the swallowtail butterfly.

References

Austin, D. F. 2004. Florida ethnobotany. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Borror, D. J. 1988. Dictionary of root words and combining forms. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

Godfrey, R. K. 1988. Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of Northern Florida and adjacent Georgia and Alabama. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press.

Grimm, W. C. 2002. The illustrated book of trees. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Nelson, G. 1994. The trees of Florida: A reference and field guide. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press.

Ogren, T. L. 2000. Allergy-free gardening: The revolutionary guide to healthy landscaping. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. (n.d.). PLANTS Database. Retrieved from http://plants.usda.gov/index.html

UF/IFAS Extension. 2008. Three bays for Florida yards. Retrieved from http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu/News%20columns/3BayTrees.htm

Footnotes

1.

This document is FOR 260, one of a series of the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date June 2010. Reviewed April 2013. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Michael G. Andreu, associate professor of forest systems, School of Forest Resources and Conservation; Melissa H. Friedman, former biological scientist, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, IFAS, University of Florida, Plant City Center; Mary McKenzie, former research assistant, School of Forest Resources and Conservation; and Heather V. Quintana, former research assistant, School of Forest Resources and Conservation


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

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.