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What Is a Laurel Bush?

By J.S. Metzker Erdemir
Updated May 16, 2024
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A laurel bush is an evergreen flowering shrub that grows primarily in temperate regions. These bushes are suitable to many soil and lighting types. The laurel bush is abundant in the wild in the Northeastern United States, and is used extensively around the world as a low-maintenance garden border and hedge. Some common varieties are the mountain laurel and the English laurel, also called cherry laurel or common laurel.

Laurel bushes have large, dark, shiny leaves. The leaves are oval-shaped, coming to points at the ends, with a thick leathery texture. In the spring, laurels send up long spikes of pink or white flowers. The laurel bush is often confused with the laurel tree, but they are quite different plants. Laurel trees are small Mediterranean trees which are the source of culinary bay leaves. Laurels are related to rhododendrons and azaleas, and their leaves, buds, seeds, and flowers are poisonous to humans and most animals. Although some birds eat laurel berries, the taste is so strongly bitter that children or pets are unlikely to ingest them. There is a risk that herbivorous pets might eat the leaves.

The laurel bush grows quickly and lushly, and is considered low-maintenance and drought-resistant. The shrubs' thick undergrowth makes them choke out weeds, reducing the amount of care they need. The flowers are valuable in gardens because they attract beneficial insects. Mountain laurels can grow up to eight feet (2.5m) tall while cherry laurels can reach 20 feet (6m), and they take about ten years to mature. The height of these plants makes them useful for privacy hedges.

Although the laurel bush doesn’t require much care, it should be pruned once a year to even out growth and maintain strong branches. A machine pruner may be used. Many gardeners opt to finish the job with a small set of hand shears because laurel leaves that have been cut turn brown, which makes the plant look unhealthy. Pruning should normally be performed in the dry months of summer. The number of flowers can be increased from year to year by pinching off the seed pods left by spent blooms. If a bush has grown very large or out of control, the plant can endure drastic cutting down to the bottom branches, and will grow back its shape and foliage within a fear years.

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Discussion Comments
By anon216723 — On Sep 22, 2011

Ahain, I think you are confusing the Laurel bush with the Laurel tree (or Bay tree).

Bay laurel was used to fashion the laurel wreath of ancient Greece, a symbol of highest status. A wreath of bay laurels was given as the prize at the Pythian Games because the games were in honor of Apollo, and the laurel was one of his symbols.

Ovid tells the story that laurel tree was first formed when the nymph Daphne was changed into a laurel tree because of Apollo's pursuit of her. Daphne is the Greek name for the tree.

The symbolism carried over to Roman culture, which held the laurel as a symbol of victory. It is also the source of the words baccalaureate and poet laureate, as well as the expressions "assume the laurel" and "resting on one's laurels".

In the Bible, the laurel is often an emblem of prosperity and fame. In Christian tradition, it symbolizes the resurrection of Christ.

By MissMuffet — On Apr 13, 2011

@Windchime - I think you did the right thing when you decided against planting the laurel bushes. It only takes a small amount of the plant to be eaten for the animal to get seriously ill.

Having said that, most animals tend to know which plants to avoid. So long as they have enough suitable food sources they will not eat something which tastes unpleasant.

My sister has a book about puppy proofing your house. According to that there's no actual antidote available, but fast medical treatment may be enough to save the day.

By Windchime — On Apr 10, 2011

I was looking at planting some cherry laurel bushes around a patch of open grass. It seemed like a great way to create a hedge that is fairly low maintenance. In the end I decided against it because my neighbor keeps goats.

They know no boundaries and have destroyed several of my other bushes and shrubs. I was worried that they would devour the laurel leaves too, regardless of the bitter taste.

I don't know how many an animal would need to eat to cause themselves serious damage. Is there even an antidote available?

By Penzance356 — On Apr 07, 2011

@ahain - Do you think the use of laurel leaves as a symbol of victory is related to them being poisonous? It makes sense that it could be, as it was pretty important to have power in those days!

By ahain — On Apr 07, 2011

Whenever I hear about laurel bushes, it's always the symbolism from Greek and Roman ancient times. Laurel leaves were worn on the heads of people in positions of power in Greece, and the champions of athletic competitions like the Pythian Games were awarded wreathes made out of laurel branches, too. The Romans were influenced by the Greeks and kept laurel as a symbol of victory, and then the modern phrase "resting on your laurels" came from that. I guess in ancient Greece and Rome, resting on your laurels could be taken literally by some people, huh?

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