LAUREL. At least four shrubs or small trees are called by his name in Great Britain, viz. the common or cherry laurel Prunus Laurocerasus), the Portugal laurel (P. lusitanica), the ?ay or sweet laurel (Laurus nobilis) and the spurge laurel (Daphne ;aureola). The first two belong to the rose family (Rosaceae), ,nd to the section Cerasus (to which also belongs the cherry) of he genus Prunus.
The common laurel is a native of the woody and sub-alpine egions of the Caucasus, of the mountains of northern Persia, of lorth-western Asia Minor and of the Crimea. It was received into Europe in 1576, and flowered for the first time in 1583. Ray in 688 relates that it was first brought from Trebizond to Constan inople, thence to Italy, France, Germany and England. Parkin ion in his Paradisus records it as growing in a garden at Highgate n 1629; and in Johnson's edition of Gerard's Herball (1633) it is that the plant "is now got into many of our choice Eng ish gardens, where it is well respected for the beauty of the eaues and their lasting or continuall greennesse" (see Loudon's 4rboretum, ii. 717). The leaves of this plant are rather large, )roadly lance-shaped and of a leathery consistence, the margin )eing somewhat serrated. They are remarkable for their poisonous )roperties, giving off the odour of bitter almonds when bruised; he vapour thus issuing is suffi cient to kill small insects by the prussic acid which it contains.
The leaves when cut up finely and listilled yield oil of bitter al monds and hydrocyanic (prussic) acid. Sweetmeats, custards, cream, etc., are often flavoured with laurel-leaf water, as it imparts :he same flavour as bitter al monds; but it should be used sparingly, as it is a dangerous poison, having several times proved fatal.
The following varieties of the common laurel are in cultivation: the Caucasian (Prunus Lauroce rasus, var. caucasica), which is hardier and bears very rich dark green glossy foliage; the Ver sailles laurel (var. ktifolia), which has larger leaves ; the Colchican (var. colchica), which is a dwarf-spreading bush with narrow sharply serrated pale-green leaves. There is also the variety rotunaifolia with short broad leaves, the Grecian with narrow leaves and the Alexandrian with very small leaves.
The Portugal laurel is a native of Portugal and Madeira. It was introduced into England about the year 1648, when it was culti vated in the Oxford Botanic Gardens.
The bay or sweet laurel (Laurus nobilis) belongs to the family Lauraceae, which contains sassafras, benzoin, camphor and other trees remarkable for their aromatic properties. It is a large evergreen shrub, sometimes reaching the height of 6o ft., but rarely assuming a truly tree-like character. The leaves are smaller than those of the preceding laurels, possessing an aromatic and slightly bitter flavour, and are quite devoid of the poisonous properties of the cherry laurel. The small yellowish-green flowers
are produced in axillary clusters, are male or female, and consist of a simple 4-leaved perianth which encloses nine stamens in the male, the anthers of which dehisce by valves which lift upwards as in the common barberry, and carry glandular processes at the base of the filament. The fruit consists of a succulent berry sur rounded by the persistent base of the perianth. The bay laurel is a native of Italy, Greece and North Africa, and is abundantly grown in the British Isles as an evergreen shrub, as it stands most winters. The date of its introduction is unknown, but must have been previous to 1562, as it is mentioned in Turner's Herbal pub lished in that year. It was carried to North America by the early colonists.
This laurel is generally held to be the Daphne of the ancients, though Lindley, following Gerard (Herball, 1597, p. 761), asserted that the Greek Daphne was Ruscus racemosus. Among the Greeks the laurel was sacred to Apollo, especially in connection with Tempe, in whose laurel groves the god himself obtained purification from the blood of the Python. This legend was dramatically represented at the Pythian festival once in eight years, a boy fleeing from Delphi to Tempe, and after a time being led back with song, crowned and adorned with laurel. The vic tors in the Pythian games were crowned with the laurels of Apollo, and the laurel became the symbol of triumph in Greece and later in Rome also. As Apollo was known as the god of poets, the Laurea Apollinaris naturally belonged to poetic merit. The various prerogatives of the laurel among the ancients are col lected by Pliny (Hist. Nat. xv. 30). It was a sign of truce, like the olive branch; letters announcing victory and the arms of the victorious soldiery were garnished with it ; it was thought that lightning could not strike it, and the emperor Tiberius always wore a laurel wreath during thunderstorms. From its association with the divine power of purification and protection, it was often set be fore the doors of Greek houses, and among the Romans it was the guardian of the gates of the Caesars (Ovid, Met., i. 562 et seq.).
The last of the plants mentioned above under the name of laurel is the so-called spurge laurel (Daphne Laureola). This and one other species (D. Mezereum), the mezereon, are the sole representatives of the family Thymelaeaceae in Great Britain. The spurge laurel is a small evergreen shrub, with alternate some what lanceolate leaves with entire margins. The green flowers are produced in early spring, and form drooping clusters at the base of the leaves. The calyx is four-cleft, and carries eight stamens in two circles of four each within the tube. The pistil forms a berry, green at first, but finally black.
For North American trees and shrubs known as laurels, see