Umbellularia californica Lauraceae
Oregon Myrtle, California Laurel, California-bay um-BEL-ew-lah-ree-a ka-li-FORN-i-ka
- Broadleaf evergreen tree/shrub, 25-30(70) ft (7.6-9(21) m) high, loose foliage in shade, but a round,
gum-drop habit when in the open. Leaves alternate, simple, elliptical or lance-shaped, 5-13 cm
long, thick and leathery, margin entire and slightly thickened and revolute (turned under), shiny dark green
above and dull and lighter below; very aromatic. Clusters of small, creamy white flowers
in early spring, but thereafter may flower sporadically for several months. Fruit about 2 cm long, elliptical to nearly round, greenish to purple, maturing in late autumn.
- Sun or shade. When established, which may be difficult, it grows in any rich, moist, well
drained soil. The leaves cause skin irritations in some people and aromatic components in the
leaves may cause sneezing and headaches if inhaled. Native peoples used the leaves to repel fleas
and to treat headaches and poison oak dermatitis.
- This is NOT the source of "bay leaves" generally used in cooking. Bay leaves are from
Laurus nobilis (True Laurel, Bay Laurel), which also is a member of the family Lauraceae but it is
native to the Mediterranean region. The leaves of Umbellularia californica are sometimes
used as a bay leaf substitute but they have much stronger flavor. The Oregon Myrtle
(U. californica) is also NOT the myrtle mentioned in the Bible and used in some Jewish rituals,
that myrtle is Myrtus communis or Common Myrtle (in Myrtaceae). Common Myrtle is widely
cultivated in the Mediterranean region, but its origin is unknown although Afghanistan is often mentioned.
- Hardy to USDA Zone 7 Native to southwest Oregon, south along Coast
Range, and in Sierra Nevada, to southern California. It was discovered by Archibald Menzies of the Vancouver expedition in 1790 and introduced as an ornamental plant by David Douglas in 1829.
- Oregon State Univ. campus: southeast corner of Peavy Hall.