Intro to California Laurel and Growing Tips

Intro to California Laurel and Growing Tips
Growing California Laurel

This plant is recommended for zones seven through ten. My Sunset western garden book recommends it for all or part of the following states: Nevada, Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Idaho, Washington, Colorado, and Montana.

California can be trained as a single trunked tree or a multiple trunked shrub. The plant will tolerate a moderate pruning, but in general requires little pruning.

This native adapts to a wide range of soils and moisture levels. Suitable soils include clay, loam, and sandy loams. It even grows well in poor dry soils. In poor soils, the plant will often be multiple trunked. A pH of 5.7 to 7.4 is preferred.

A good deep rich soil with adequate moisture promotes growth, about a foot a year in California is average. Otherwise, the plant tends to have a slow growth rate.

Tolerant of wind, California laurel has been grown indoors and outdoors in containers. This plant can assume many roles in the landscape. It is recommended for street trees, patio trees, park trees, hedges, screens, shade trees, and specimens.

A variety of exposures are suitable for this plant. It grows well in full sun, part sun, and full shade. No watering is needed once the plant becomes established.

California laurel can self sow. It can be propagated by seeds and cuttings. In the wild, it can sprout from a fallen trunk or stump.

Young seedlings up to six inches tall transplant very easily. In the wild, the seeds are viable for a short period mainly over the Winter into Spring. The best time to plant the seeds is right after the fruits fall to the ground.

California laurel seeds germinate in about three months. This can be shortened to two months if the seeds are stratified. In the wild, the seeds will generally
germinate in the Fall after they drop to the ground.

Intro to California Laurel

California laurel (Umbellularia californica)

This plant goes by a variety a number of other common names. These include myrtle, Oregon myrtle, Pacific myrtle, spice tree, pepperwood, bay tree, and bay tree. A member of the laurel family, this broadleaf evergreen is native to California and Oregon. It is also said to be native to some parts of Washington and British Columbia.

California laurel frequents various habitats. Often found near waterways and along the coasts, it is also found in mountain canyons, slopes, valleys, rock outcroppings, flatland, chaparral, and in forests or woodlands. It grows in lower elevations up to five thousand feet.

This plant typically is found in conjunction with other woody plants. It was discovered in 1790 by Archibald Menzies of the Vancouver Expedition. Calfornia laurel was introduced into cultivation by David Douglas in 1829.

All parts of this species are quite aromatic. The fragrance can be strong enough to cause headaches, dizziness, and sneezing. Douglas wrote about drinking tea made from the plant.

Native Americans ate the fruits and nuts after using special treatments to render them edible. Judith Larner, author of “California Foraging” says the husks, buds, and leaves are edible.

Several natural varieties of this plant can be found. Umbellularia californica var. pendula features very pendulous branches and stems. Eastwood is a variety with soft white down covering the flower panicles, branches, and the undersides of the leaves.

Umbellularia californica var. californica is native to Oregon and Cslifornia. Umbellularia californica var. fresnensis occurs only in California.

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