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Umbellularia californica
Umbellularia californica

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Zones 4-10, 12-24
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Full, Partial, Shade
Regular WaterMinimal Water
Moderate, Minimal

Umbellularia californica

California Laurel, California Bay, Oregon Myrtle, Pepperwood
Evergreen, Herbs, Trees

Native to California and Oregon. In the wild, form varies. On windy hillsides near the coast, it is a huge, gumdrop-shaped shrub; in forests, it’s a tree to 75 ft. tall and over 100 ft. wide. In gardens, it tends to grow slowly (about 1 ft. a year) to 20–30 ft. tall and wide. Lance-shaped, 2–5-in.-long leaves are medium to deep yellow green and glossy above, dull light green beneath. Wonderfully fragrant leaves can be substituted for sweet bay (Laurus nobilis) in cooking, but they have a more pungent flavor. Clusters of tiny yellowish flowers give the plant a yellowish cast in spring. Blossoms are followed by olive-like, purplish, inedible fruit.

Grows best and fastest in deep soil with regular water but tolerates many other conditions, including aridity. Will grow in deep shade and ultimately get big enough to become a shade maker itself (casts very dense shade unless thinned). Though often afflicted with sooty mold resulting from aphid or scale infestation, it is nonetheless useful for a screen, background planting, or tall hedge. Heavy drop of yellow to tan leaves in fall.

California laurel is the main host of Phytophthora ramorum, the fungus that causes sudden oak death; the tree can transmit the fungus but is not usually killed by it. In the Coast Ranges from California’s Big Sur through Curry County in southern Oregon, growing California laurel within 35 ft. of any of the following plants is likely to result in their infection and death: coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), canyon live oak (Q. chrysolepis), Cali­fornia black oak (Q. kelloggii), Shreve oak (Q. parvula shrevei), and tanbark oak (Lithocarpus densiflorus).

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