Friday, April 1, 2011

Bay tree flower orgy

Our property is a corner lot, about 8,100 sq. ft. in size. Due to the way our house is positioned, our backyard is fairly small although we do have pretty deep side yards. What little there is of the backyard proper is dominated by four sweet bay trees (Laurus nobilis). Most of you probably know sweet bays are cute potted trees or large shrubs, but given enough time and the right climate, they can actually grow very tall. Ours are now as tall as our two-story house, about 35 ft. When our house was built 20+ years, ago, it might have seemed like a good idea to plant four bay trees 8 ft. apart, but now they are too close together for my taste. Every now and then I toy with the idea of having one or two of them taken out, but considering how tall they are, this would not be a trivial (or cheap) undertaking.

Sweet bay trees are evergreen and quite attractive (and they produce a never-ending supply of bay leaves), but they are such greedy drinkers and feeders that it is well nigh impossible to grow anything underneath them. There is a dense mat of fine roots right under the surface, so even digging is a chore. After trying for several years, we finally gave up and decided to put containers under the trees. That turned out to a great solution. Last December we set up two 6x2 ft. galvanized steel stock tanks under the bay trees and planted them with running bamboos. Once they have filled in, we will finally have lush a “understory.”

If you follow this blog even casually, you’ll know that we’ve had a very wet spring. In fact, as of today, 3/31/11, our rain fall for the season is 25% above average. While bay trees are quite drought-tolerant, they do love water, and the extra rations they’ve been getting this year have kicked flower production into overdrive. In the 14 years we’ve lived in this house, I’ve never seen so many flowers on the trees! Walking outside at lunchtime today, the air was abuzz with untold numbers of bees flitting from one flower cluster to the next. I was watching them for a while, and they were positively drunk on pollen!

From my home office window upstairs I have a great view of all four bay trees—if I reached out far enough, I could actually touch them—and I must say that I find their flowers to be as beautiful as the much more ephemeral bloom of cherry or plum trees.

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Our backyard dominated by four Laurus nobilis (our backyard is so small that I had to digitally stich four photos together to create this panorama)
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I’ve never seen so many flowers on our bay trees
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Flowers and pollen everywhere
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Perfect crown of bay leaves and flowers
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Bee busy harvesting pollen
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Check out the amount of pollen this bee is carrying around on its belly

If you ever need bay leaves for cooking, let me know and I’ll send you a lifetime supply!

4 comments:

  1. Beautiful! Are they fragrant?

    I could use a few bees for my blooming-too-early blueberries.

    How much larger will those trees get? They definitely dominate the space, and four is just too many! I suspect that removing any of them will reveal the non-ideal shape of the remaining ones, so you're probably stuck with all or none. It's a dilemma for sure.

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  2. Alan, yes, they have a scent but it's hard to describe. Not super fragrant like citrus blossoms, but not unpleasant either like our Aristocrat pear. It's more a vegetal scent as opposed to fruity or floral, if that makes any sense.

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  3. Wonder how bay honey tastes? They do look beautiful this year!

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  4. The problem is that you really need to be cruel to be kind here. Otherwise each year in common wiith many other species the leaf and bud tips get further and further away from the trunk, which then puts great stress on the tree, having to push sap to ever further branches and leaves, and leaving underneath all that suffering branches/limbs that are devoid of leaf or flower bud, making then soft pruning unattractive. Hate to say it, but the best thing you can do is a hard prune back to some central limbs, giving the plant chance to throw leaves/flowers near to the trunk, making it manageable for the tree. Yes they do grow to 35ft. in Med climbs, but often as spindly looking trees, rather than the mass of leaf and flower bud we all associate with sweet bay.

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