by Amanda Rose Newton
The end of May marks the end of decades of learning for many. No matter how much we love to learn, most of us are ready for the break once we have our diploma, the tangible evidence of our work.
Plants have worked their way into culture through just about every milestone, from births to deaths.
Laurels have been associated with graduation celebrations going back to the days of Greek mythology where special people who accomplished great works were gifted a beautiful horseshoe wreath featuring the greenery.
The two are so intertwined with graduations at this point that the common expression, to “rest on one’s laurels”, comes from the idea that once one has accomplished what they set out to do, they can truly relax and ride the wave of their success. A “Poet Laureate” is another loose reference to the significance of the laurel with success, as is the laurel being the symbol for those earning the distinction of a master’s degree.
While the traditional bay laurel used for these wreaths is not easy to come by here in Florida, there are plenty of members of the Lauraceae plant family that make excellent (and historically accurate) gifts for the graduate in your life.
All in The Family: Lauraceae
The Lauraceae plant family features 3000 different species of flowering plants, ranging from flowers to shrubs to fruit trees!
With the majority of them choosing to live in warmer tropical regions, there are plenty to choose from when gifting to a Floridian.
Several characteristics make it easy to spot the family resemblance, as all will feature alternately arranged leaves (leaves are not opposite from each other on the branch), waxy dark green leaves, and special oil cavities that cause a beautiful aromatic scent.
Additionally, the fruit produced will always be a drupe, meaning it has one extra-large seed present. To give you an idea of just how diverse this group is, here are a few of the cosmopolitan species grown throughout the world:
Sassafras: The fragrant tree can be grown in Northern Florida successfully, and is common throughout most temperate forest systems worldwide.
Cinnamon: Edible cinnamon, all the varieties, are members of the Lauraceae family.
Bay Laurel: The wreath bearer! Bay laurels can be grown in the Southeast, but are rarely seen in the nursery trade here in Florida.
Camphor: due to its weed-like tendencies and toxicity, many no longer sell this once-prevalent plant that brings us the medicinally important camphor oil.
Northern Spice Bush: Aromatic and low growing, this Missouri native is found throughout wooded areas of the East Coast.
Floridian Family Members
While the beautiful green, glossy foliage makes for great arrangements, if your graduate happens to have a green thumb then why not up the ante and give them their very own plant, shrub, or tree?
Below is a short list of current members of the Lauraceae clan that are readily available to grow successfully here in Florida.
Avocado: That is right, avocados, the classic drupe (perhaps the most fun fruit type to say in everyday conversation) are in the laurel family.
With their easygoing nature, they have become a go-to for many new and seasoned fruit fanatics countywide. Rockledge Gardens carries dozens of varieties (that is right– DOZENS) so be sure to do a little research when picking the right avocado for your graduate.
The oil content of the fruit seems to be the deal-breaker for most people, with 15% or higher being ideal for guacamole making and a lower percentage making for better slices for sandwiches. Think about how you normally enjoy eating your avocado when making the final choice. A few fan favorites:
Our favorite Avocado trees in Central Florida
Brogdon– Has a high 18% fat content, works with either A or B pollination types, and is the most like the California Hass. Remember, the grocery store Hass is NOT a Florida avocado!
Florida Hass– Firm and large, this is the classic “skinnycado” that makes for great slices for tacos and sandwiches.
Day– A Mexican variety, this one does excellent in Brevard County and has a creamy-rich texture perfect for the iconic dip.
Bacon– Featuring buttery rich flavor, skin that peels off in a breeze, and an attractive tree to boot, the Bacon is a classic.
Fantastic- The Fantastic is, indeed, fantastic! With a high oil content and quick growth, it is already a stand-out. Factor in that it is the most cold-hardy of all the avocados and you got a winner!
Bay Leaf: The leaves of bay trees are used to flavor everything from stews to baked goods. When the shiny foliage is crushed, the vital oils are released creating wonderful scents and flavors. A great choice for the graduate who is just as likely to be found cracking open the books as in the kitchen.
Bay Rum: While not used for cooking per se, this twice-removed relative of the bay leaf features incredibly aromatic leaves that perfumes your yard each time the wind blows. Perfect for those seeking novelty or meriting a unique gift.
Other Plants of Merit
If the list above does not suit your graduate, a few classics work well for all celebration types. If your student loves to cook, consider a container garden of herbs or small veggies.
The olive tree, forever the signature plant of all that is pure and wonderful, is always a safe bet. If you would like to keep it traditional and go for a bouquet of flowers, remember that they have their own language and can speak your feelings of admiration and praise without a single word.
From all of us here at Rockledge Gardens, congratulations to those who are crossing those milestones! While this is a big accomplishment regardless, given the historical year we have had, it seems everyone could use an excuse to kick back and rest on their laurels. You’ve earned it!