California bay is a native species to California and an aromatic representative of the Laurel family. In natural areas, this large, broad-leaved evergreen tree often grows 100 feet tall and two to five feet in diameter, with multiple stems arising from basal sprouts.
The tree grows in diverse climates, ranging from the cool, humid conditions found in dense coastal forests to the hot, dry atmospheres found inland in the open woodlands and chaparral.
You will see the California bay on hiking trails from Oregon to the border of Mexico in the Sierra Nevada, Cascade Range and eastern slopes of the Laguna Mountains.
California bay is the most valued and best publicized hardwood species in the western United States.
Wood is used to create fancy turned woodenware, interior trim, cabinets, furniture, paneling, and veneer.
Burls and other growth with unusual grain are especially prized for making gifts and wood carvings, all marketed as myrtlewood.
The next time you see crafted wood, you may find it was made from the California bay tree.
Flowers usually have four to nine petals and are pale yellow, perfect (which means both sexes), and grow on short stemmed umbels at the end of branches or leaf attachments. The tree flowers regularly and often profusely. Pollen is transferred easily from flower to flower, but only one to three will set viable fruit. Flower buds develop before new leaves appear which in the Verdugo canyons may begin around November and last until May.
Be careful when smelling the California bay leaves. They are very aromatic and when crushed may irritate the eyes and nose. The leaves are a simple, elliptical shape to a lanceolate shape ranging from three to five inches long; dark green and shiny above, paler and smooth below. The dark color of leaves and shine makes the California bay very distinctive amongst other trees.
For many, these leaves are used as a food seasoning. They are collected and dried for home and commercial sale. The dried whole leaves add a tang to stews, meat dishes and soups, however one should make certain to remove the bay leaf prior to serving. Deer and goats have an affinity to consume the young and less pungent staged leaves.
Fruit & Seeds
The fruit develops after flowering in various hues ranging from medium green to speckled yellow, a dull red or purple through purplish brown. It hangs as a bluish, black, olive-like drupe about 0.6 inches in diameter. It remains attached to the tree by a yellow stalk.
Ripe drupes may be yellow-green on one tree, dark purple on an adjacent tree. Drupes fall to the ground in late autumn or winter and are dispersed by gravity, wind, animals, and water. The drupes are large and heavy; one pound of drupe may yield about 300 seeds. Seeds are a delicacy for silver-gray squirrels, dusky-footed woodrats, and Steller’s jays. Hogs eat both seeds and roots.
Drupe seeds germinate fairly easily, usually about three months after falling in late winter and spring, and more so when covered with soil. By mid-summer the seedlings may be eight inches tall and if protected from disturbance, will grow to become a new tree enhancing our community.
Tell your family and friends about significance of this beautiful tree and its invaluable role in sustainable environment we all need to protect.
Protect & Enjoy
Protecting our native trees requires our active partnership and contribution to the common goal of resource management. Oak, sycamore, and bay trees hold a unique place in our local ecosystem and provide habitat for 81 species of resident and migratory birds.
Urbanization continues to present a challenge within the sustainable capability of the ecosystem. Open spaces, clean air and homes for wildlife are worth protecting, but will demand support for the native trees existence in the local landscape.
Trees are living resources and assure healthy living habitats for interconnected flora and fauna, and the people that live within these habitats. To ensure that our trees will survive and thrive, please protect them by following these suggestions:
- Do not injure the trunk with objects.
- Keep all machines and weed whips away from tree trunks.
- Practice conservative pruning.
- Do not over water.