Laurus nobilis: Flemish Laurel tree, History

In mythology the supreme god Zeus is said to have changed the priestess Daphne into a laurel bush, because Daphne tried to escape from the sun god Apollo. (According Ovidius).

The plant probably originates from Asia Minor, from where the Greeks brought it back to their country. From there the laurel was brought to Italy, where it laurelled many heads of Romans.

We can say with certainly that the laurel has already been used for three thousand years for the manufacturing of wreaths. This makes the laurel one of the oldest plants known.

How the plant has ended up in Belgium is something we will never know for sure. It is suspected that the laurel was already found in Bruges in the 17th century, and that it has been cultivated thanks to Monsignor Triest.

At the end of the 19th century Bruges was, together with Ghent, world famous as horticultural centre. This is a period we know a lot more about.

Plants were exported to Imperial and Royal Courts. Every year dozens of wagons filled with laurels of gigantic dimensions were transported throughout the world. Those plants were one hundred up to two hundred years old. Pyramid-shaped plants of 6 m high and wreaths of 150 cm in diameter were no exception. Companies like Vincke-Dujardin, NV Flandria, Sanders&Fils were famous all over the world.

Click on the picture to enlarge...

Because of the world wars, the Flemisch growers have suffered huge losses, the more so since there was a shortage of coal during the severe winters of 1916 and 1917. Many old plants have been lost at the time. But despite of all the setbacks, there havealways been laurel growers.

Nowadays there are about 25 laurel growers in West and East Flanders (Belgium). They love their profession and still cultivate high-quality laurels. Sometimes still in a traditional way, but with modern means. The cultivation of the noble plant is still alive. Since it takes years to grow a pyramid out of a cutting, laurel growers have to excercise a lot of patience. Pruning every winter, and in summer trimming in order to get a filled and elegant plant.

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Geert en Ingrid Devriese-Luyssen
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8750 Wingene - België

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