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Products > Umbellularia californica
Umbellularia californica - California Bay Tree
Image of Umbellularia californica
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Tree
Family: Lauraceae (Laurels)
Origin: California (U.S.A.)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Creamy White
Bloomtime: Spring
Fragrant Flowers: Yes
Height: 25-40 feet
Width: 15-40 feet
Exposure: Sun or Shade
Summer Dry: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 0-10° F
Umbellularia californica (California Bay Tree) - A shrubby tree that typically develops multiple trunks and slowly grows to 30 to 40 feet tall, though large old trees are known to approach 100 feet with massive basal burls. It has aromatic medium green, narrow, pointed leaves and small yellow-green flowers held in umbels that appear in later winter to early spring and are followed by green fruit often tinged with purple - fruit are reminiscent of small avocados, which are a related plant in the laurel family. This fruit is called bay nuts and some consider it a delicacy. Umbellularia grows in sun or shade and has low to moderate water needs. It is hardy down to 0 degrees F. It is often found in soils that retain some moisture but it is quite drought tolerant and requires no irrigation once established in the garden. It is a great dense growing plant that make an excellent tall screen or even a formal clipped hedge, or it can be a beautiful specimen tree. Some leaves drop in the fall and leaf litter and dense shade make it difficult to grow other plants under it. The aromatic leaves can be used in cooking, similar to its European relative, the Bay Laurel, Laurus nobilis but are stronger, so less is needed. This plant is common in canyons and valleys through much of California from Baja California to southwestern Oregon at elevations below 5,000 feet. Its fine-grained yellow-brown wood is sought after by woodworkers for lathe turning, furniture and woodwind instruments and in Oregon it is often called Oregon Myrtle or Myrtlewood; its beautiful wood was long marketed as only coming from "Oregon and the Holy Land". Other common names include Pepperwood, Spicebush, Cinnamon Bush, Peppernut Tree and Headache Tree - this last name because some people are sensitive to the strong aroma of the foliage which is caused by a chemical called Umbellulone. The genus name comes from Latin words 'umbra' (derived from the Ancient Greek 'ómbros') meaning "shade", "shadow" or "umbrella" and 'ulae' meaning "little" so might be translated as "little umbrella" in reference to the small flat top clusters (umbels) of flowers. The specific epithet references the geographical range of this plant within California, though also north into Oregon. Another old name for this plant is Oreodaphne californica and one theory is that this genus name was the origin of the name for the Oreo cookie as Nabisco used a laurel wreath in their logo design for the cookie and several other Nabisco cookies also had names with plant name derivations. 

This information about Umbellularia californica displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.