THE LAUREL

In the UK woodland burials are now being conducted even in inner cities. There’s nothing new about this. In Greek mythology young women are always being turned into trees. One was a nymph called Daphne, who had committed herself to life-long virginity. When she was pursued by the god Apollo, she ran and ran to get away from him, and when she could run no more she cried out, ‘Oh please, let my terrible beauty be destroyed!’

“And at once she felt a heavy numbness seize her limbs. A thin bark closed over her breast, her hair turned into leaves, and her arms into waving branches. Her feet, so swift a moment ago, stuck fast in slow-growing roots, and her face was lost in the canopy. Only her shining beauty was left” (Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.252-566).

She had become a laurel tree.

Daphne is the Greek word for laurel; the ancient Greeks used it to make crowns for athletes and poets. In London you can find many examples of this plant in the form of bay trees – the Laurus Nobilis, or sweet bay. Technically it’s an evergreen shrub, but if you leave it to its own devices, it can grow up to 25 feet tall. So the next time you pop a bay leaf into a stew, do spare a thought for Daphne, a young woman who was saved from a terrible fate – by a tree.

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