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Several plants bear the name laurel, the most important being the bay laurel and the mountain laurel. In the Lauraceae family, the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) is known as the bay tree, sweet bay, true laurel, Grecian laurel, laurel tree, or simply laurel. From the term “laurel” derives laureate and baccalaureate. Bay laurel leaves may be used to flavor food, though they are seldom eaten. The ancients used bay laurel in folk medicine and to celebrate people of achievement. In the Ericaceae or Heath family, mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) derives its name from Peter Kalm, a student of 18th-century Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. The Swedish Academy of Science dispatched Kalm to North America in 1748 to collect new species of plants. He returned to Sweden with mountain laurel among other species. In 1753, Linnaeus named the mountain laurel. Mountain laurel is known as broad leaved laurel, calico buck, spoonwood, ivy, mountain ivy, big leaved ivy, laurel leaves, and calmoun. The mountain laurel is known as a laurel because its foliage resembles that of the bay laurel. Mountain laurel is an ornamental shrub.

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