Loblolly bay

Gordonia lasianthus
Family: Theaceae

Natural History

Loblolly bay is a handsome, fast growing and short-lived shrub or tree. It grows in shallow swamps and moist depressions of the Atlantic Coastal Plain from North Carolina to central Florida and southern Mississippi.

Sometimes loblolly bay is used as an ornamental; however, it has a shallow root system that requires adequate watering and will not cultivate well on dry sites. The bark has been used for tanning leather. Loblolly bay has light, soft, fine-grained, reddish wood that has been used in cabinetwork. Otherwise, loblolly bay has little commercial and wildlife value.

Loblolly bay belongs to the tea family, Theaceae. Although it is not used for tea, a related species, Camellia sinensis, is the source of our iced tea.

Another common species related to loblolly bay is the fragrant gardenia, a valuable ornamental and fragrance resource. All southeastern tea species produce similar large white, showy fragrant flowers that occur as single flowers near the base of young leaves.


Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Loblolly bay is a shrub to medium-sized tree that reaches heights of 60' to 70'. It has a compact crown that forms a column or pyramid shape.
Leaves: The leaves are simple, alternately arranged, persistent, and 2" to 6" long by 1 ½" to 2" wide. The leathery, elliptical shaped leaves usually have shiny, dark green upper surfaces while the underneath surface is duller and pale. The leaf base is wedged and the leaf tip is acute. The leaf margin is finely serrated with blunt teeth.
Flowers: The flowers are showy white, cup-shaped and 3" across. Five petals surround many yellow stamens. The fragrant flowers occur singly on long stalks at the base of younger leaves.
Fruit: The fruit is an egg-shaped woody capsule that is ½" in diameter splitting into sections along 5 sutures, or depressed lines, at maturity. It has silky hairs and contains 10 to 20 winged seeds.
Bark: The dark reddish-brown bark is smooth or lightly furrowed on young trees and becomes deeply furrowed between narrow flat ridges as the trees mature.
Habitat: Loblolly bay grows in the moist soils of swamps, bay areas, cypress domes, and wetland depressions of pinelands and low hardwood forests. Other associated species include slash pine, pond cypress, swamp and black tupelo, red maple, and Atlantic white cedar.



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