There is a tree native to North America that lurks at the edge of rivers and swamps. Strangely it's hardly ever used ornamentally despite some solid assets such as evergreen, aromatic leaves, dark blue fruit and reddish bark. Indigenous people used this tree medicinally and European settlers prized the fine grained wood while the leaves flavored soups and gumbos. This useful and beautiful tree is the Redbay, or Persea borbonia. It can reach up to 60 feet with a similar spread but in cultivation it is often smaller, especially when grown on open ground. One of its chief assets is the foliage which consists of glossy, medium green leaves which have a spicily pungent fragrance when crushed. And as Redbay branches low to the ground with evergreen foliage it makes for an excellent hedge, wind break or screen.  Of course it can also be pruned to a central leader which would be most suitable for urban plots. Although the flowers are hardly noticeable, they are followed by small, dark blue fruits which ripen in autumn. These fruits are greedily devoured by birds and squirrels making the planting of a Redbay a blessing to wildlife. Finally, the Redbay's trunk is ridged with handsome red-brown bark which is very eye-catching.

It develops a dense, pyramidal crown with gently drooping branches best appreciated when grown as a single specimen but it naturalizes beautifully on a woodland verge. Unfortunately, this member of the Laurel family is not tolerant of cold winters. It would be confined to the southern third of the US and warmest parts of the UK, though it would be well adapted to Australia and New Zealand. This wonderful tree is not particular about soil or light. It grows in shade or sun, acid or alkaline soil, and well-drained or flooded soil. It is also tolerant of sea shore salt air.



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