Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Red Bay

The next labeled plant along the boardwalk at the Francis Beidler Forest is the Red Bay (Persea borbonia).

From Richared Porcher and Douglas Rayner's A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina, "The aromatic, spicy leaves of red bay and swamp red bay have been used as a substitute for bay leaves (Laurus nobilis, native to Asia Minor and the laurel of history). Fresh or dried leaves can be used as a spice to flavor meats, soups, and other dishes. Because of its attractive evergreen leaves, red bay is often cultivated in the South. The trees are too small to be of commercial importance as lumber. The fruits are of limited importance to wildlife."

If you have Red Bay near you, enjoy it while you can.  Since 2003, a fungus associated with an exotic ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus) has been killing the trees in the coastal plain counties of Georgia and southeastern South Carolina.  The fungus is transferred from the beetle to the healthy tree when the beetle attacks the stems and branches.  The Master Naturalists from Beaufort say they can no longer find healthy Red Bay in their area.  They spent some time admiring the various Red Bay specimens around the boardwalk at Beidler Forest. However, the fungus has been reported in Charleston County, so it is only a matter of time before the non-native fungus finds its way here.

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