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SPECIES:  Umbellularia californica
California laurel flowerbuds. Wikimedia Commons image by Mary Bowerman.



SPECIES: Umbellularia californica
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Howard, Janet L. 1992. Umbellularia californica. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions : On 2 March 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS from: California bay to: California laurel. Images were also added. ABBREVIATION: UMBCAL SYNONYMS: Umbellularia californica f. pendula Rehd. NRCS PLANT CODE: UMCA COMMON NAMES: California laurel California bay TAXONOMY: The scientific name of California laurel is Umbellularia californica (Hook. & Arn.) Nutt. [9,22,31]. Recognized varieties are [9]: Umbellularia californica var. californica Umbellularia californica var. fresnensis Eastwood. LIFE FORM: Tree, Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Umbellularia californica
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: California laurel occurs in the Klamath, Siskiyou, and Coast Ranges from Douglas County, Oregon south to San Diego County, California, and on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada from Shasta County south to Kern County. It is found along drainages in the Central Valley, California [16,23,31,48]. Umbellularia californica var. fresnensis occurs in Fresno County, California [9].
Distribution of California laurel. 1971 USDA, Forest Service map digitized by Thompson and others [52].

   FRES20  Douglas-fir
   FRES21  Ponderosa pine
   FRES24  Hemlock - Sitka spruce
   FRES27  Redwood
   FRES28  Western hardwoods
   FRES34  Chaparral - mountain shrub

     CA  OR

   1  Northern Pacific Border
   3  Southern Pacific Border
   4  Sierra Mountains

   K001  Spruce - cedar - hemlock forest
   K002  Cedar - hemlock - Douglas-fir forest
   K005  Mixed conifer forest
   K006  Redwood forest
   K009  Pine - cypress forest
   K010  Ponderosa shrub forest
   K011  Western ponderosa forest
   K012  Douglas-fir forest
   K026  Oregon oakwoods
   K028  Mosaic of K002 and K026
   K029  California mixed evergreen forest
   K030  California oakwoods
   K033  Chaparral
   K034  Montane chaparral

   221  Red alder
   223  Sitka spruce
   224  Western hemlock
   225  Western hemlock - Stitka spruce
   226  Coastal true fir - hemlock
   229  Pacific Douglas-fir
   230  Douglas-fir - western hemlock
   231  Port-Orford-cedar
   232  Redwood
   233  Oregon white oak
   234  Douglas-fir - tanoak - Pacific madrone
   243  Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
   244  Pacific ponderosa pine - Douglas-fir
   245  Pacific ponderosa pine
   246  California black oak
   247  Jeffrey pine
   248  Knobcone pine
   249  Canyon live oak
   250  Blue oak - grey pine
   255  California coast live oak

R1MEVGn California mixed evergreen
R1PSMA Mixed evergreen-bigcone Douglas-fir
R1MCONns Mixed conifer
R1MCONss Mixed conifer
R-DFWV Douglas-fir
R-TAOAco Oregon coastal tanoak
R-MCONsw Mixed conifer
R-MEVG California mixed evergreen
R1PIPO Ponderosa pine
R1OAWD California oak woodlands
R-OAPI Oregon white oak-ponderosa pine
R-OWOA Oregon white oak
R-TAOAco Oregon coastal tanoak
R1SESE Coast redwood
R1SAGEco Coastal sage scrub
R1SCRBnc Coastal sage scrub-coastal prairie
R1CHAP Chaparral
R1CHAPmn Montane chaparral

California laurel is sometimes codominant or dominant in various hardwood
forests.  Pure stands are rare, but there are a few California laurel
forests in the Coast Ranges and in Tehama County, California [7,11,15].
The tree also occurs in various coniferous forests, where it is a
codominant or dominant in the subcanopy or is an understory associate.
Published classifications listing California laurel as codominant or
dominant in community types (cts), ecoassociation types (eco), plant
associations (pas), or vegetation types (vts) are as follows:

AREA                            CLASSIFICATION            AUTHORITY
  CA: outer Coast Ranges        Ca. laurel forest cts        Holland 1986
  CA: Coast Ranges              Ca. hardwoods eco         Allen & others 1991
 nCA: Klamath; N.Coast Ranges   cismontane woodland cts   Holland 1986
 nCA: Muir Woods NM             redwood forest vts        McBride & Jacobs 1980
 sCA: S.Coast Ranges            riparian pas              Paysen & others 1980
 sCA: Santa Ana Mts.            canyon woodlands cts      Vogl 1976
swOR: Siskiyou NF               mixed evergreen cts       Sawyer & others 1977
swOR: Siskiyou; Klamath         tanoak-Ca. laurel pas     Atzet & Wheeler 1984


SPECIES: Umbellularia californica
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE: California laurel wood is used for cabinets, furniture, interior trim, paneling, veneer, gunstocks, and turned woodenware. Burls, marketed as myrtlewood, are used for making novelty items and wood carvings [9]. IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: California laurel leaves and twigs are browsed by black-tailed deer and livestock. The tree is in relatively short supply over most of its distribution, but is one of the principal browse species for deer in parts of the North Coast Ranges [42]. The seeds are eaten by birds, rodents, and domestic and wild pigs. [5,43,39]. Pigs also consume the roots [42]. PALATABILITY: New shoots are highly palatable to black-tailed deer. Utilization of 60 to 80 percent by weight of young shoots was recorded on chaparral deer ranges in Madera and Lake counties, California [6,39]. The degree of use shown by livestock and wildlife species for California laurel leaves and twigs has been rated as follows [39]: cattle - fair to poor horses - poor goats - fair to poor sheep - fair to poor mule deer - good to fair NUTRITIONAL VALUE: California laurel leaves and twigs are high in protein. Studies conducted at several sites in northern California found that the protein content varies from 25.6 percent in May to 11.3 percent in January [43]. COVER VALUE: California laurel provides hiding and thermal cover for deer, wild pig, black bear, and various small mammals. It also provides nesting, hiding, and thermal cover for upland game birds and songbirds. It is heavily used for cover when it grows in ecotones between riparian and chaparral communities [10]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: California laurel is used for a variety of rehabilitative purposes. It has been utilized in riparian and wildlife habitat reclamation projects in Berkeley, the Santa Clara Valley, and Los Angeles County, California [14,35,49]. It has also been used in watershed projects for flood control and stream channel restoration [17,32]. California laurel is started from seed and transplants best when under 1 year of age. Cultivation methods have been detailed [42]. OTHER USES AND VALUES: Native Americans made tea from the root bark of California laurel and used the leaves for control of biting insects. The leaves were also used medicinally by Native Americans and pioneers for treatment of headache and rheumatism. California laurel leaves are marketed as a food seasoning. The tree is used in ornamental landscaping and is available at commercial nurseries [9,20]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Hardwood timber: Silviculture of California laurel may become more important as East Coast hardwood production lessens. Although California laurel wood is valuable, young trees are not currently planted for future commercial harvest. A serious management problem of this species is heart rot. The fungus (Ganoderma applanatum) causing this disease will infect even young trees. Heart rot can be virtually eliminated from a stand by cutting down trees to stumps of less than 8 inches (20 cm) in height to promote root crown sprouting. Root crown sprouts have a very low incidence of heart rot. Slash disposal by broadcast burning is recommended to increase sprouting and kill fungi harbored in the slash [27]. California laurel has no serious insect pests, although the powderpost beetle (Ptilinus basalis) and various oak bark beetles (Pseudopithyophthorus spp.) will sometimes attack injured trees [9]. California laurel is not windfirm [27]. Conifer timber: California laurel severely reduces growth of conifer timber seedlings through allelopathic inhibition. The leaves contain water-soluble terpenes which retard root elongation [16]. A study done in the Siskiyou National Forest of southwestern Oregon showed that root elongation of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) seedlings was 16 percent of normal following treatment with California laurel leaf extract. This was a greater rate of suppression than that shown by 10 other chaparral species tested for potential conifer growth inhibition [44]. Unless controlled, the California laurel understory in coniferous forests often becomes dominant or codominant within a few years following clear-cutting of mature timber trees [9]. Control: California laurel can be controlled by aerosol or injection/cut surface treatment with 2,4-D [8]. (also see Fire Management Considerations regarding control by burning)


SPECIES: Umbellularia californica
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: California laurel is a highly-branched native evergreen tree that typically grows from 40 to 80 feet (12-24 m) in height [31]. The largest recorded tree is in Mendocino County California, and measures feet 108 feet (33 m) in height and 119 feet (36 m) in spread [51]. On poor sites the tree grows in scrub form [7,31]. The fruit is a drupe containing one large seed with a thin seedcoat [42]. The bark is thin and smooth on young trees, while older trees have thin, scaly bark that is continually shed. Authorities disagree on the rooting habit of California laurel. Roots are described as either shallow or as deep and wide-spreading. Rootwads of windthrown trees in southern Oregon were found to be limited in extent with no taproot, and 100 percent of California laurel trees excavated in the Berkeley Hills of California had their roots confined to the top 36 inches (90 cm) of soil [9]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Sexual: California laurel begins reproducing by seed at 30 to 40 years of age [7,9,31]. Seed crops are abundant in most years. Seed is disseminated by animals, water, and gravity. Limited research suggests that seed viability is retained over winter but diminishes rapidly after that time [42]. Some fresh seed will slowly germinate over a 3-month period without stratification or scarification. Germination rates improve, however, after a 2- to 3-month cold stratification at 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 deg C). Scarified seed has a slightly higher germination rate than unscarified seed [9,42]. Germination is hypogeal. Germination and seedling establishment are favored in riparian areas where seed is buried by silt deposition or high water [27]. Seedling establishment is poor in drier environments unless the ground is disturbed [9]. Seedlings are good competitors against other species and grow under moderately dense canopies. Seedling recruitment is poor under other California laurel trees, however [9]. Vegetative: California laurel sprouts from the root crown, bole, or stump [9,34]. Sprouts arise wherever surviving meristematic tissue receives strong light [9]. Bole sprouts are more common on plants growing on south-facing slopes, while root collar sprouts usually appear on plants on north-facing slopes. Sixty sprouts have been reported growing on the trunk of one burned tree [34]. Sprouts have been observed growing from fallen California laurel trees in Muir Woods National Monument, California [25]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: California laurel grows on a variety of sites. It occurs on xeric chaparral, where the tree often grows in scrub form. Scrub trees are particularly common in serpentine chaparral [16]. California laurel also occurs on exposed ridges, steep mountain slopes, coastal bluffs, or rocky outcrops. Best development occurs on mesic sites: deep, well-drained alluvial benches, valley bottoms subjected to occasional inundation, well-watered coastal slopes, or along foothill streams [9]. Soil: California laurel grows in loam, sandy-loam, or clay soils. Soil pH ranges from 5.7 to 7.4 [9]. Climate: California laurel grows in the cool, humid maritime climate of dense coastal forests and the mediterranean climate of California hardwood forests and chaparral [9]. Elevation: California laurel is found from sea level to 4,000 feet (1,219 m) in northern California and Oregon and from 2,000 to 5,000 feet (610-1,524 m) in southern California [42]. Plant associates: Overstory associates include bigcone Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpa), grand fir (Abies grandis), white fir (A. concolor), Colter pine (Pinus coulteri), sugar pine (P. lambertiana), western white pine (P. monticola), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globus; E. camaldulensis), valley oak (Quercus lobata), and black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) [9,11,34]. (also see SAF cover types) Subcanopy and understory associates include California sycamore (Plantanus racemosa), bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), boxelder (A. negundo), interior live oak (Q. wislizenii), coast live oak (Q. agrifolia), canyon live oak (Q. chrysolepis), blue oak (Q. douglasii), California scrub oak (Q. dumosa), Sadler oak (Q. sadleriana), Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), California buckeye (Aesculus californica), chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), various manzanitas (Arctostaphylos nevadensis; A. mariposa; A. viscida), yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum), California rhododendron (Rhododendron californicum), Pacific rhododendron (R. macrophyllum), and evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) [9,11,34]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: California laurel is seral in mixed evergreen forests, and climax in California hardwood forests, riparian communities, and chaparral [3,26,37]. In mixed-evergreen forest it is replaced by various conifers (see SAF cover types and Site Characteristics: Overstory associates). A sun- and shade-tolerant species, California laurel occurs in all seral stages of mixed evergreen forest. Pioneer seedlings or residual sprouters appear in the initial community, and the species frequently persists as a subcanopy dominant in the late seral community [3,25]. In California hardwood forests, it is dominant or codominant with other hardwood species [1,18]. In chaparral, it replaces brush species in the absence of fire. California laurel seedlings were found growing in a mature chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) chaparral community in the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California 40 years following fire [33]. Such seedlings occasionally grow to maturity and outcompete existing shrubs before the next fire cycle. In riparian communities, California laurel codominates with red alder (Alnus ruba), bigleaf maple, boxelder, and California buckeye [26,42]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The seasonal development of California laurel varies with latitude and elevation. The general development is as follows [9]: Northern Ca Southern Ca flowers out: April-Sept year-round new leaves out: May-June Dec-April seeds ripe: Sept-Nov Sept-Nov flora primordia develop: Sept-Nov Sept-Nov seed disseminated: Nov-Jan Nov-Jan


SPECIES: Umbellularia californica
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Plant adaptations: California laurel sprouts from the root crown or bole following fire [9,25,27,43,42]. Some studies indicate that germination of buried seed may slightly increase following light to moderate fire due to the cracking of the thin seed coat [28,42]. Fire ecology: California laurel increases fuel loading by the continual shedding of its bark [9]. FIRE REGIMES: Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY: survivor species; on-site surviving root crown off-site colonizer; seed carried by animals or water; postfire yr 1&2 secondary colonizer; off-site seed carried to site after year 2


SPECIES: Umbellularia californica
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: The thin bark of this tree provides little protection against fire. Moderate-severity fire kills California laurel seedlings and top-kills saplings and mature trees. Severe fire kills the seed [9,42]. PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: Top-killed California laurel recovers rapidly from fire. Taber and Dasmann [43] reported crown sprouts appearing 4 to 6 weeks after late winter and spring fires in the North Coast Ranges of California. Sprouting may also occur after summer or fall fires. Most California hardwoods sprout within a few weeks following fire in any season [29], and California laurel presumably has this ability. Reproductive ability is regained quickly; flowers have been noted on first-year sprouts [9]. Seedlings establish from postfire year 1 until the next fire cycle. In the redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) forest of Muir Woods National Monument, for example, 567 seedlings per acre (1,400 seedlings/ha) were observed at postfire year 134. The dense understory was codominated by redwood and California laurel trees that began as sprouts and seedlings following the 1845 fire [25]. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Hardwood timber: Prescribed burning is an effective tool for reclaiming California laurel in hardwood forests invaded by conifers [9]. Conifer timber: Prescribed burning alone is not effective in removing California laurel from clear-cut timber areas. Prescribed fire will top-kill California laurel, but follow-up mechanical or chemical control of sprouts will be necessary until conifer seedlings are established [9]. Other considerations: California laurel was an integral part of a fire hazard reduction project in the Berkeley Hills, where highly flammable exotic eucalyptus were removed to release the less flammable understory of California laurel and coast live oak [38]. California laurel in riparian areas is not usually threatened because fire is rare there [19,40].


SPECIES: Umbellularia californica
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