Umbellularia californica is a tree native to coastal forests of western North America. Its pungent leaves have a similar flavor to bay leaves (though stronger), and it may be mistaken for Bay Laurel.
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 or California Laurel. It has also been called Pepperwood and Headache Tree (the latter from the strong scent of the crushed foliage, which can cause a headache if breathed in to excess).
It is the sole species in the genus Umbellularia. It ranges near the coast from Douglas County, Oregon 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.
It is an evergreen tree growing to 30 m tall (exceptionally 45 m) with a trunk up to 80 cm thick. The leaves are smooth-edged and lens 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 a small umbel (hence the scientific name Umbellularia, "little umbel"). The fruit is a round and green berry 2–2.5 cm long and 2 cm broad, lightly spotted with yellow, maturing purple. It consists of a fleshy covering over a single hard, thin-shelled seed.
According to Collins Gem SAS Survival Guide, the Oregon Myrtle contains irritant or poisonous substances and no part of them should be consumed as food.
Other sources indicate it may be used in cooking and woodworking. The leaves are used as a flavoring agent in cooking, just as bay leaves. The wood is very hard and fine, and is 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 elsewhere further north up the Pacific coast to Vancouver in Canada, and in western Europe.
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