Lauraceae (laurel family) Umbellularia

Umbellularia californica California bay laurel

California, Oregon
Umbellularia californica leaf and fruit. From Forest Trees of the Pacific Slope, George B. Sudworth, USDA, 1907

Native to the Stanford campus and Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, California laurel is instantly identifiable by crushing a leaf, even an old fallen leaf. The pungent aroma is quite pleasant but sniff deeply with care; it can be overpowering. Try a leaf in your stew (maybe half a leaf – see Laurus nobilis, the Grecian laurel, or bay tree). Grape-sized purplish fruits contain a single seed. Warning: Prunus laurocerasus, a member of the rose family, is poisonous but is commonly referred to as a laurel; do not confuse it with the California laurel or Grecian laurel.

Umbellularia californica fruit. John Rawlings, ca. 2005

The wood is homogeneous and almost as dense and hard as that of Q. chrysolepis. It is attractive for craft projects and can readily be antiqued with genuine tiny beetle holes just by letting it lie around outside for a season or two while green. Pin borers, so called because the escape holes left by the emerging beetles are so straight that a pin can be inserted, leave piles of fine frass on green firewood stacked below.

There is one at Lasuen Mall on the south side of Building 500. Those occurring naturally along San Francisquito Creek are multistemmed. Four examples, two of them quite old, are at the Children’s Health Council off Sand Hill Road. Two old ones are 100 feet south of the Angel of Grief; more are nearby and behind the Mausoleum. Also see California laurel in the Junipero Serra Boulevard greenbelt east of Stanford Avenue.

Illustrations: Jasper Ridge photo archive.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005.