Umbellularia californica is a large hardwood tree native to coastal forests of California, as well as to coastal forests extending into Oregon.[1] It is endemic to the California Floristic Province. It is the sole species in the genus Umbellularia.

The tree was formerly known as Oreodaphne californica.[2] In Oregon, this tree is known as Oregon myrtle, while in California it is called California bay laurel, which may be shortened to California bay[3] or California laurel. It has also been called pepperwood, spicebush, cinnamon bush, peppernut tree, headache tree,[4] mountain laurel,[5] and balm of heaven.[5]

The tree's pungent leaves have a similar flavor to bay leaves, though stronger, and it may be mistaken for bay laurel. The dry wood has a color range from blonde (like maple) to brown (like walnut). It is considered an excellent tonewood and is sought after by luthiers and woodworkers.

The tree is a host of the pathogen that causes sudden oak death.

Umbellularia californica 02
Foliage and flowers
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Magnoliids
Order: Laurales
Family: Lauraceae
Genus: Umbellularia
(C.G.D.Nees) Nuttall
U. californica
Binomial name
Umbellularia californica
Umbellularia californica range map
Natural range

Sciadiodaphne Rchb.


California bay laurel 2012-06-16
This tree, on Permanente Creek in Rancho San Antonio County Park, Santa Clara County, California, is one of the largest of its species in the state. Since this photograph, the tree was split, and half the tree broke off and fell in a storm. The other half is still thriving, and has more or less resumed the original canopy shape.
Lignotuber near ground level provides fire-resistant storage of energy and sprouting buds if fire damage requires replacement of the trunk or limbs.

This tree mostly inhabits redwood forests, California mixed woods, yellow pine forest, and oak woodlands. Bays occur in oak woodlands only close to the coast, or in extreme northern California where moisture is sufficient.

During the Miocene, oak-laurel forests were found in Central and Southern California. Typical tree species included oaks ancestral to present-day California oaks, and an assemblage of trees from the laurel family, including Nectandra, Ocotea, Persea, and Umbellularia.[6][7] Only one native species from the laurel family, Umbellularia californica, remains in California today.


In the north, it reaches its distributional limit through southwest Oregon to (infrequently) Newport, Lincoln County, Oregon, on the coast, extending from there south through California to San Diego County. It is also found in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It occurs at altitudes from sea level up to 1600 m. An isolated, more northern occurrence of the species can be found in Tacoma, Washington, around Snake Lake near the Tacoma Nature Center.[8] There are also two recorded instances of trees growing in coastal British Columbia.[9][10]

Californiabaylaurel tacomawa2
Naturalized occurrence of species in Snake Lake Park, Tacoma, Washington


It is an evergreen tree growing to 30 m tall with a trunk up to 80 cm thick. The largest recorded tree is in Mendocino County, California, and measured (as of 1997) 108 feet (33 m) in height and 119 feet (36 m) in spread.[11]

Umbellularia californica 00094
The leaves are entire and lance-shaped about 3–10 centimetres (1.2–3.9 in) long. They may substitute for the Mediterranean bay leaf in cooking.

The fragrant leaves are smooth-edged and lance-shaped, 3–10 cm long and 1.5–3 cm broad, similar to the related bay laurel, though usually narrower, and without the crinkled margin of that species.

The flowers are small, yellow or yellowish-green, produced in small umbels (hence the scientific name Umbellularia, "little umbel"). Unlike other "bay laurels" of the genus Laurus, Umbellularia has perfect flowers (male and female parts in the same flower).[12]

The fruit, also known as "California bay nut", is a round and green berry 2–2.5 cm long and 2 cm broad, lightly spotted with yellow, maturing purple. Under the thin, leathery skin, it consists of an oily, fleshy covering over a single hard, thin-shelled pit, and resembles a miniature avocado. Umbellularia is in fact closely related to the avocado's genus Persea, within the Lauraceae family. The fruit ripens around October–November in the native range.


Historical usage

Umbellularia has long been valued for its many uses by Native Americans throughout the tree's range, including the Cahuilla, Chumash, Pomo, Miwok, Yuki, Coos, and Salinan people.[13] The Concow tribe call the plant sō-ē’-bä (Konkow language).[14]

Poultices of Umbellularia leaves were used to treat rheumatism and neuralgias.[15] A tea was made from the leaves to treat stomach aches, colds, sore throats, and to clear up mucus in the lungs.[16] The leaves were steeped in hot water to make an infusion that was used to wash sores.[15] The Pomo and Yuki tribes of Mendocino County treated headaches by placing a single leaf in the nostril or bathing the head with a laurel leaf infusion.[16]

The chemical responsible for the headache-inducing effects of Umbellularia is known as umbellulone.[4]

Both the flesh and the inner kernel of the fruit have been used as food by Native Americans. The fatty outer flesh of the fruit, or mesocarp, is palatable raw for only a brief time when ripe; prior to this the volatile aromatic oils are too strong, and afterwards the flesh quickly becomes bruised, like that of an overripe avocado.[17] Native Americans dried the fruits in the sun and ate only the lower third of the dried mesocarp, which is less pungent.[16]

The hard inner seed underneath the fleshy mesocarp, like the pit of an avocado, cleaves readily in two when its thin shell is cracked. The pit itself was traditionally roasted to a dark chocolate-brown color, removing much of the pungency and leaving a spicy flavor.[15] Roasted, shelled "bay nuts" were eaten whole, or ground into powder and prepared as a drink which resembles unsweetened chocolate. The flavor, depending on roast level, has been described variously as "roast coffee," "dark chocolate" or "burnt popcorn".[18] The powder might also be used in cooking or pressed into cakes and dried for winter storage.[15] It has been speculated that the nuts contain a stimulant;[19][20] however this possible effect has been little documented by biologists.

Modern usage

The leaf can be used in cooking, but is spicier and "headier" than the Mediterranean bay leaf, and should be used in smaller quantity. Umbellularia leaf imparts a somewhat stronger camphor/cinnamon flavor compared to the Mediterranean bay.[21]

Some modern-day foragers and wild food enthusiasts have revived Native American practices regarding the edible roasted fruit, the bay nut.[17][19][22]

Umbellularia californica is also used in woodworking. It is considered a tonewood, used to construct the backs and sides of acoustic guitars. The wood is very hard and fine, and is also made into bowls, spoons, and other small items and sold as "myrtlewood". It is also grown as an ornamental tree, both in its native area, and further north up the Pacific coast to Vancouver in Canada, and in western Europe. It is occasionally used for firewood.

According to a modern Miwok recipe for acorn soup, "it is essential that you add a generous amount of California laurel" when storing acorns to dry, to keep insects away from the acorns.[23]

One popular use for the leaves is to put them between the bed mattresses to get rid of, or prevent, flea infestations.

The wood is used as lumber in furniture making, especially highly figured specimens.[24]

"Myrtlewood" money

"Myrtlewood" is the only wood still in use as a base "metal" for legal tender.[25] During the 1933 "interregnum of despair" between Franklin Roosevelt's election and his inauguration, the only bank in the town of North Bend, Oregon—the First National—was forced to temporarily close its doors, precipitating a cash-flow crisis for the City of North Bend. The city solved this problem by minting its own currency, using myrtlewood discs printed on a newspaper press. These coins, in denominations from 25 cents to $10, were used to pay employees, with the city promising to redeem them for cash as soon as it became available.

However, when the bank reopened and the city appealed for people to bring their myrtlewood money in to redeem it, many opted to keep their tokens as collector's items. After several appeals, the city announced that the tokens would remain legal tender in the city of North Bend in perpetuity. The unredeemed tokens have become very valuable, because of scarcity and historical interest. Fewer than 10 full sets are believed to exist.[26]

Sudden oak death

Umbellularia californica is a host of Phytophthora ramorum, the pathogen that causes the disease sudden oak death. It is important in this sense because it is one of two tree species (tanoak is the other) on which the pathogen readily produces spores.[27]


CaliforniaBayLaurelFlowers crwb

Flowers open in late winter and early spring

Umbellularia Fruit

An unripe bay nut


Nearly ripe bay nuts being prepared for roasting

Roast Baynuts

Roasted bay nuts ready for eating, or grinding into a powdery paste for beverages and cooking


  1. ^ "Umbellularia californica (Hook. & Arn.) Nutt". CalFlora. Retrieved 2012-02-05.
  2. ^ "The Plant List".
  3. ^ "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-01-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  4. ^ a b Nassini, R.; et al. (2011). "The 'headache tree' via umbellulone and TRPA1 activates the trigeminovascular system". Brain. 135: 376–90. doi:10.1093/brain/awr272. PMID 22036959.
  5. ^ a b John Henry Clarke (1986). A Dictionary of Practical Materia Medica. B. Jain Publishers/Médi-T. ISBN 978-81-7021-013-9.
  6. ^ Axelrod, D. I. (2000). "A Miocene (10-12 Ma) Evergreen Laurel-Oak Forest from Carmel Valley, California". University of California Publications: Geological Sciences. Berkeley, CA, USA: University of California Press. 145.
  7. ^ Barbour, M. G.; Keeler-Wolf, T.; Schoenherr A. A. (2007). Terrestrial Vegetation of California. Berkeley, CA, USA: University of California Press. p. 56.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "National register of big trees: California-laurel: Umbellularia californica". American Forests, Washington D.C. Retrieved 2012-09-21.
  12. ^ "California Laurel". Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute. Retrieved 2018-02-04.
  13. ^ "Umbellularia Californica". USDA Plant Guide.
  14. ^ Chesnut, Victor King (1902). Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office. p. 408. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  15. ^ a b c d Goodrich, J. S.; Lawson, C.; Lawson, V. P. (1980). Kashaya Pomo Plants. Heyday Books. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-930588-86-1.
  16. ^ a b c Chesnut, V. K. (1902). Plants Used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Contributions from the U.S. National Herbarium Vol. VII. Reprinted 1974 by Mendocino County Historical Society. p. 114. LCCN 08010527. OCLC 6218739.
  17. ^ a b FeralKevin: Foraging, Bushcraft, Permaculture, and Rewilding blog.
  18. ^ Kelly, I. (1978). Coast Miwok. Handbook of North American Indians. 8. Smithsonian Institution. p. 108. ISBN 0-16-004574-6.
  19. ^ a b "The California Bay Laurel". Paleotechnics.
  20. ^ Moerman, D. E. (1998). Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press. p. 927. ISBN 978-0-88192-453-4.
  21. ^ Vizgirdas, R. S.; Rey-Vizgirdas, E. M. (2006). Wild Plants of the Sierra Nevada. University of Nevada Press. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-87417-535-6.
  22. ^ Sunny Savage (March 6, 2008). "California Bay Laurel". Wild Food Plants (blog). Retrieved 2012-09-21.
  23. ^ "Nupa (Acorn) Soup". NativeTech: Indigenous Food and Traditional Recipes. Retrieved 2012-09-16.
  24. ^ "Northwest Timber: Wood Terms & Info". Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  25. ^ "Myrtle Tree Story". Archived from the original on 2013-12-18. Retrieved 2012-08-17.
  26. ^ Finn J.D. John (August 29, 2010). "When banks closed, town of North Bend minted its own money — out of wood". Offbeat Oregon History. Retrieved 2012-08-17.
  27. ^ "UC Tries to Stop Northward Movement of Sudden Oak Death". University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. May 3, 2006. Retrieved 2012-09-21.

External links

Bay tree

Bay tree can refer to:

Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), a tree in the Lauraceae family native to Europe

Sweet bay tree (Magnolia virginiana), a tree in the Magnoliaceae family native to southeastern North America

West Indian bay tree (Pimenta racemosa), a tree in the Myrtaceae family native to the Caribbean

California bay laurel (Umbellularia), a tree in the Lauraceae family native to western North America

Bay Tree, Alberta

Bay Tree (Fabergé egg)And sometimes confused with

Prunus laurocerasus

Botanical Garden, Bonn

The Botanische Gärten der Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn (6.5 hectares open to public, 3 hectares private), also known as the Botanischer Garten Bonn, is a botanical garden and arboretum maintained by the University of Bonn. It is located at Meckenheimer Allee 171, Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, and open except Saturdays in the warmer months; admission is free on weekdays.

The gardens were originally castle grounds for the Archbishop of Cologne, dating to about 1340, which circa 1650 were fashioned into a renaissance garden. In 1720 the site was reworked as a baroque garden, setting the basic structure of today's garden, with the rococo Poppelsdorf Palace completed in 1746 by Archbishop Clemens August. When the University of Bonn was founded in 1818, its first garden director, Dr. Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck (1776-1858), began to focus the garden on scientific botany. By 1900 the garden was second only to Berlin's within Germany, but it was utterly destroyed in World War II. Reconstruction began after the war and was completed in 1979-1984 with the construction of two conservatories.

Today the garden cultivates about 8,000 plant species, ranging from endangered local species from the Rhineland such as Lady's Slipper Orchids to protected species such as Sophora toromiro from Easter Island. Its outdoor gardens, containing about 3,000 species, are organized as follows:

Arboretum - 700 species of woody plants, including fine specimens of Araucaria araucana, Ginkgo biloba, Nyssa, Pinus bungeana, and Torreya, as well as old specimens of Taxodium distichum.

Systematic section - about 1,200 species arranged in beds reflecting their evolutionary relationships; notable specimens include Passiflora caerulea, Trachycarpus fortunei, and Umbellularia californica.

Geographical section - plants grouped by geographical origin.

Biotope section - the most important locally occurring plant communities, including endangered species from the Bonn region.The garden also contains about 0.5 hectares of greenhouse area, including a major conservatory (2,500 m²) completed in 1984. Roughly 3,000 species are cultivated in public areas as follows:

Fern house - tree ferns and other indigenous plants from cool cloud forests on tropical mountains.

Mediterranean house - winter shelter for subtropical plants from the Mediterranean, South Africa, California, and Australia.

Palm house - epiphytes and large rain forest plants such as bananas and bamboos.

Succulent house - Succulents including new world cacti and agaves, and old world Aloes and Euphorbias, including Welwitschia mirabilis.

Victoria house - giant water lily (Victoria regia), Nymphaea, Aristolochia and Passiflora, tropical bog plants, and a fine specimen of Amorphophallus titanum.

Smaller houses including a carnivorous plant house, geophyte house, and two orchid houses.

California mixed evergreen forest

California mixed evergreen forest is an ecoregion of the Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests biome. It is found in the mountain ranges of California and into southwestern Oregon.

The Mixed evergreen forest ecoregion is native to the Northern and Southern California Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada of central and northern California; the Transverse Ranges and Peninsular Ranges of southern California; and the southwestern Oregon Coast Ranges.

California mixed evergreen forests occur in ecoregions of the California Floristic Province, including in areas of the California chaparral and woodlands and its sub-ecoregions, Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains forests, Northern California coastal forests, and Sierra Nevada lower montane forest. The forests of each ecoregion have a somewhat different plant community composition.

Cameraria umbellulariae

Cameraria umbellulariae is a moth of the family Gracillariidae. It is known from California, United States.The wingspan is about 9 mm.

The larvae feed on Umbellularia californica. They mine the leaves of their host plant. The mine has the form of a large diffused blister-like mine on the upperside of the leaves. The pupa is enclosed in a semi-transparent flat oval silken web, within the mine.


Eucalyptol is a natural organic compound that is a colorless liquid. It is a cyclic ether and a monoterpenoid.

Eucalyptol is also known by a variety of synonyms: 1,8-cineol, 1,8-cineole, cajeputol, 1,8-epoxy-p-menthane, 1,8-oxido-p-menthane, eucalyptol, eucalyptole, 1,3,3-trimethyl-2-oxabicyclo[2.2.2]octane, cineol, and cineole.

In 1870, F. S. Cloez identified and ascribed the name "eucalyptol" to the dominant portion of Eucalyptus globulus oil.

Ganoderma brownii

Ganoderma brownii is a species of polypore fungus in the Ganodermataceae family. It is a plant pathogen and occasional saprotroph similar in appearance to Ganoderma applanatum. This species is restricted geographically to the Pacific Northwest, primarily observed in California. In the San Francisco Bay Area, it is very common on Umbellularia californica.

Iluvatar (tree)

Iluvatar is a redwood tree in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Northern California that has been confirmed to be at least 20.5 feet (6.2 m) in diameter at breast height, and 320 feet (98 m) in height. Measured by Stephen C. Sillett, it is the world's third-largest coast redwood, the largest being Lost Monarch.Iluvatar is located among a group of trees called Atlas Grove. The location is unpublished. Atlas Grove, including Iluvatar, is a carefully studied area of forest. Just measuring Iluvatar required five climbers for over 20 days. Iluvatar has 134 reiterated trunks, more than any except the Redwood Creek Giant. Its first reiterated trunk is 2.6 meters in diameter, the largest reiteration on any redwood. In total, reiterations account for 12.3 percent of its stemwood volume.

Like many old growth redwoods, trunks within the crown are hydraulically linked by fused branches. In addition to allowing for water transfer within the crown, these fusions strengthen the crown of the tree, making it more resilient to wind damage. Iluvatar has 30 such fusions.This redwood tree was named by Stephen C. Sillett after Eru Ilúvatar, the creator of the universe in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, in which his novels The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion take place.

The Atlas Grove (with Iluvatar) is said by author Richard Preston to have been discovered by naturalist Michael Taylor in 1991.This coastal redwood is surrounded by other old coastal redwoods including Atlas Tree, Gaia, Pleiades, Ballantine, Prometheus, Bell, Zeus and others. Ballantine was named after a real man. Some were named after ancient Greek gods. Neighboring species include Pseudotsuga menziesii, Picea sitchensis, Acer macrophyllum, Rhamnus purshiana, Umbellularia californica, Tsuga heterophylla, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana and Lithocarpus densiflorus.

Laurus nobilis

Laurus nobilis is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with green, glabrous (smooth and hairless) leaves, in the flowering plant family Lauraceae. It is native to the Mediterranean region and is used as bay leaf for seasoning in cooking. Its common names include bay tree (esp. United Kingdom), bay laurel, sweet bay, true laurel, Grecian laurel, or simply laurel. Laurus nobilis figures prominently in classical Greco-Roman culture.

Worldwide, many other kinds of plants in diverse families are also called "bay" or "laurel", generally due to similarity of foliage or aroma to Laurus nobilis, and the full name is used for the California bay laurel (Umbellularia), also in the family Lauraceae.

Mustard plant

Mustard plant is a plant species in the genera Brassica and Sinapis in the family Brassicaceae. Mustard seed is used as a spice. Grinding and mixing the seeds with water, vinegar, or other liquids creates the yellow condiment known as prepared mustard. The seeds can also be pressed to make mustard oil, and the edible leaves can be eaten as mustard greens.


N-Methylmaleimide is a naturally-occurring organic compound with the formula of C5H5NO2.

Phorbol esters

Phorbol esters are a class of chemical compounds found in a variety of plants, particularly in the Euphorbiaceae and Thymelaeaceae families. Chemically, they are ester derivatives of the tetracyclic diterpenoid phorbol.

Rodeo Creek

Rodeo Creek is an 8.3-mile-long (13.4 km) intermittent stream in western Contra Costa County, California running through the town of Rodeo to San Pablo Bay.

Sabulodes aegrotata

Sabulodes aegrotata, the omnivorous looper, is a moth of the family Geometridae. It is found in north-western North America, south to northern California.

The wingspan is 35–44 mm. Adults are on wing year round.

The larvae feed on the foliage of various flowering trees and shrubs, including Alnus, Holodiscus discolor, Rubus spectabilis, Salix and Umbellularia californica.


Stevioside is a glycoside derived from the stevia plant, which can be used as a sweetener. Evidence of benefit is lacking for long term effects on weight loss and heart disease risks.


TRPP (transient receptor potential polycystic) is a family of transient receptor potential ion channels which when mutated can cause polycystic kidney disease.


Tinyatoxin (TTX or TTN) is an analog of the neurotoxin resiniferatoxin. It occurs naturally in Euphorbia poissonii.It is a neurotoxin that acts via full agonism of the vanilloid receptors of sensory nerves. Tinyatoxin has a potential for pharmaceutical uses similar to uses of capsaicin. Tinyatoxin is about one third as strong as resiniferatoxin but is still an ultrapotent analogue of capsaicin, with a heat intensity estimate of 300 to 350 times that of capsaicin.


Umbellulone is a headache-inducing monoterpene ketone found in the leaves of the tree Umbellularia californica, sometimes known as the "headache tree".It is hypothesized to cause headaches by influencing the trigeminovascular system via TRPA1.


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