Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Umbellularia californica
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:
On 2 March 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS
from: California bay
to: California laurel. Images were also added.
Umbellularia californica f. pendula Rehd.
NRCS PLANT CODE:
The scientific name of California laurel is Umbellularia californica
(Hook. & Arn.) Nutt. [9,22,31]. Recognized varieties are :
Umbellularia californica var. californica
Umbellularia californica var. fresnensis Eastwood.
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:
No special status
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Umbellularia californica
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 .
|Distribution of California laurel. 1971 USDA, Forest Service map digitized by Thompson and others .
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES24 Hemlock - Sitka spruce
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS:
1 Northern Pacific Border
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
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
K034 Montane chaparral
SAF COVER TYPES:
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
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
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES:
R1MEVGn California mixed evergreen
R1PSMA Mixed evergreen-bigcone Douglas-fir
R1MCONns Mixed conifer
R1MCONss Mixed conifer
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
R1CHAPmn Montane chaparral
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:
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 .
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 . The seeds are eaten by birds,
rodents, and domestic and wild pigs. [5,43,39]. Pigs also consume the
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 :
cattle - fair to poor
horses - poor
goats - fair to poor
sheep - fair to poor
mule deer - good to fair
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 .
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 .
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 .
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
California laurel leaves are marketed as a food seasoning. The tree is
used in ornamental landscaping and is available at commercial nurseries
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 . 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
. California laurel is not windfirm .
Conifer timber: California laurel severely reduces growth of conifer
timber seedlings through allelopathic inhibition. The leaves contain
water-soluble terpenes which retard root elongation . 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 .
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 .
Control: California laurel can be controlled by aerosol or injection/cut
surface treatment with 2,4-D . (also see Fire Management
Considerations regarding control by burning)
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
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 . 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 . On poor sites the tree grows in scrub form
[7,31]. The fruit is a drupe containing one large seed with a thin seedcoat
. 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
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM:
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 . 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 . Seedling
establishment is poor in drier environments unless the ground is
disturbed . Seedlings are good competitors against other species and
grow under moderately dense canopies. Seedling recruitment is poor
under other California laurel trees, however .
Vegetative: California laurel sprouts from the root crown, bole, or stump
[9,34]. Sprouts arise wherever surviving meristematic tissue receives
strong light . 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 . Sprouts have been observed growing from
fallen California laurel trees in Muir Woods National Monument, California
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 . 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 .
Soil: California laurel grows in loam, sandy-loam, or clay soils. Soil
pH ranges from 5.7 to 7.4 .
Climate: California laurel grows in the cool, humid maritime climate of
dense coastal forests and the mediterranean climate of California
hardwood forests and chaparral .
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 .
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].
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 .
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].
The seasonal development of California laurel varies with latitude and
elevation. The general development is as follows :
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 .
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
 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 , and California laurel
presumably has this ability. Reproductive ability is regained quickly;
flowers have been noted on first-year sprouts . 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 .
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Hardwood timber: Prescribed burning is an effective tool for reclaiming
California laurel in hardwood forests invaded by conifers .
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 .
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 .
California laurel in riparian areas is not usually threatened because fire
is rare there [19,40].
SPECIES: Umbellularia californica
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