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Red Bay Gordonia lasianthus

Other Common Name(s):

Other plants called Red Bay:

Phonetic Spelling
gor-DOH-nee-ah lah-see-AHN-thus
Description

Gordonia lasianthus, or Loblolly Bay, is an evergreen tree that is native to the Southeastern United States and is commonly found in the coastal plains and southern Tidewater region of North Carolina in moist but not wet areas. These areas include pocosins, bayheads, acidic, organic-rich swamp forests, wet pine savannas, and bay forests. In summer it has spectacular white Camellia-like flowers that are fragrant and can continue through frost. Loblolly Bay, often called Red Bay, reaches a height of 35 to 70 feet with a trunk diameter of 20 inches and a columnar or pyramidal, very open growth habit with a narrow, compact crown of spreading branches. The eventual size of the tree is dependent on soil moisture. Although evergreen, several individual leaves at a time will turn a brilliant scarlet color in the fall. 

It is typically a short-lived tree and can be difficult to grow in cultivation and is best purchased in a pot rather than digging from the wild but can still be finicky. Use this plant in wet but well-drained areas in sun to partial sun conditions. Or just enjoy it in its native habitat. Symmetric, narrow conical shape. Depending on soil conditions, may take a shrubby form or grow to a sizeable tree. Hybrid with Franklinia (not a NC native) is Gordlinia grandiflora {Franklinia x Gordonia}; cv 'Sweet Tea'

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems: 

No major problems. It can be hard to find commercially. Root rot can be an issue for immature trees.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • ‘Variegata’
    Variegated leaves
‘Variegata’
Tags:
#contorted trunk#bees#fragrant#hummingbirds#white#evergreen#sun#showy flowers#fall color#full sun#partial shade#fragrant flowers#white flowers#shrub#wildlife plant#partial sun#showy#native tree#tree#native shrub#broadleaf evergreen#cover plant#fall interest#flowering tree#coastal#moist soil#food source#highly beneficial coastal plants#NC native#well-drained soil#long-lasting flowers#full sun flowers#summer flowers#flowering shrub#deer browsing plant#full sunlight#deer resistant#native garden#attractive foliage#long bloom time#coastal plant#fall fruits#sunshine#summer interest#coastal areas#mid-summer flowers#evergreen tree#cover#food source fall#early summer flowers#late summer flowers#food source herbage#food source nectar#food source pollen#Coastal FACW#Piedmont Mountains FACW#sandy soils tolerant#wet soils tolerant#fruits#fall color red#part sun#part shade#flowering#flower#wildlife#audubon
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • ‘Variegata’
    Variegated leaves
‘Variegata’
Tags:
#contorted trunk#bees#fragrant#hummingbirds#white#evergreen#sun#showy flowers#fall color#full sun#partial shade#fragrant flowers#white flowers#shrub#wildlife plant#partial sun#showy#native tree#tree#native shrub#broadleaf evergreen#cover plant#fall interest#flowering tree#coastal#moist soil#food source#highly beneficial coastal plants#NC native#well-drained soil#long-lasting flowers#full sun flowers#summer flowers#flowering shrub#deer browsing plant#full sunlight#deer resistant#native garden#attractive foliage#long bloom time#coastal plant#fall fruits#sunshine#summer interest#coastal areas#mid-summer flowers#evergreen tree#cover#food source fall#early summer flowers#late summer flowers#food source herbage#food source nectar#food source pollen#Coastal FACW#Piedmont Mountains FACW#sandy soils tolerant#wet soils tolerant#fruits#fall color red#part sun#part shade#flowering#flower#wildlife#audubon
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Gordonia
    Species:
    lasianthus
    Family:
    Theaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The bark was once used for tanning leather. The pink wood is soft and light and sometimes used for cabinets or for pulpwood.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southeastern United States
    Distribution:
    AL , FL , GA , MS , NC , SC
    Fire Risk Rating:
    high flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    The loblolly bay provides winter and extreme weather coverage for wildlife.  White-tailed deer browse the foliage. Bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinating insects enjoy the nectar from the flowers.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Fragrance
    Wildlife Food Source
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Particularly resistant to damage by deer.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 30 ft. 0 in. - 75 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 10 ft. 0 in. - 15 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Columnar
    Erect
    Open
    Pyramidal
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasional Flooding
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    12-24 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    7b, 7a, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The oval fruit is a hard, pointed, woody, five-valved capsule with a downy coat and about 0.6 inches long with each valve containing four to eight flat, winged seeds. In North Carolina, the fruits are available from September to October.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Head
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Long Bloom Season
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Cup
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    The 2 to 3 inch white fragrant flower has 5 waxy, rounded, silky petals surrounding many golden stamens. They occur singly in the leaf axils near the ends of branches in mid-summer. The flowers are usually found high up on the tree, attached singly on long red flower stalks springing from the axils of leaves, not abundant and bloom sporadically. In North Carolina, the flowers are available from July to September.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leathery
    Smooth
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Long-lasting
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Oblanceolate
    Oblong
    Leaf Margin:
    Doubly Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Oblong dark green, glossy, leathery leaves, 4 to 6 inches long, with a toothed margin and a pale green underside. They are broad on their outer margins and typically 1 to 2 inches wide. A few may turn bright red in fall and drop gradually over the next year.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Ridges
    Bark Description:
    The bark is light-colored from cream to carmine on young trees. Matures to medium grey to a red-brown coloration with flat-topped ridges and separated by deep narrow furrows.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    Green and brown stems
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Pond
    Riparian
    Landscape Theme:
    Native Garden
    Rain Garden
    Water Garden
    Design Feature:
    Flowering Tree
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Hummingbirds
    Pollinators
    Small Mammals
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Wet Soil