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Umbellularia californica (Hook. & Arn.) Nutt.
California Laurel, California Bay, Oregon Myrtle, Pepperwood
Lauraceae (Laurel Family)
USDA Symbol: UMCA
USDA Native Status: L48 (N)
This is a pungently aromatic, evergreen tree; its variable form dependent on habitat. Broad-crowned if open grown or narrow in shade, it is a slow grower to 40, or many more, ft. and sometimes remains an erect shrub in dry sites. The narrow, lance-shaped leaves are dark green and leathery. The bark is greenish to reddish-brown. Yellow-green flowers, 6-10 per flowering stem, are followed by greenish, avocado-like fruits which become dark purple when ripe. Evergreen tree with short trunk, usually forked into several large, spreading branches, forming a broad, rounded, dense crown of aromatic, peppery foliage; in exposed situations a low, thicket-forming shrub.
A handsome ornamental and street tree on the West Coast, it is also known as "California-bay." When crushed, the foliage, twigs, and other parts are pungently aromatic. The attractive light brown wood with darker stalkless takes a beautiful finish and is used for veneer in furniture and paneling, cabinetwork, and interior trim. Prized for novelties and woodenware, it is often marketed as "Oregon-myrtle," though a member of the Laurel Family. California Laurel and Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) are the northernmost New World representatives of this tropical family.
From the Image Gallery
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Notes: Most often 20-45 feet tall. May be up to about 150 feet tall.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Yellow , Green
Bloom Time: Jan , Feb , Mar , Apr , May , Nov , Dec
DistributionUSA: CA , OR
Native Distribution: Coast Ranges & Sierra Nevadas from CA to s.w. OR
Native Habitat: Moist canyons, streams & pond edges
Growing ConditionsWater Use: High
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Soil Description: Moist soils.
Conditions Comments: California bay laurel tolerates serpentine (high magnesium) soils. It is a very refined plant.
BenefitConspicuous Flowers: yes
PropagationDescription: Bay laurel is easily started from seed sown on light-textured beds soon after harvest. It can also be propagated from cuttings.
Seed Treatment: Removal of the leathery fruit coat will shorten germination to about two months. A 3-4 month stratification has been suggested.
Commercially Avail: yes
Find Seed or Plants
Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.
View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.
National Wetland Indicator Status
From the National Organizations DirectoryAccording to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden - Santa Barbara, CA
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR
BibliographyBibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 995 - Native Landscaping from El Paso to L.A. (2000) Wasowski, S. and A. Wasowski
Search More Titles in Bibliography
Web ReferenceWebref 37 - Calscape (2019) California Native Plant Society
Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 36 - Jepson eFlora (2019) The Jepson Herbarium, University of California, Berkeley
Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Umbellularia californica in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Umbellularia californica in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Umbellularia californica
MetadataRecord Modified: 2023-04-10
Research By: TWC Staff