- Author: Ben Faber
California Bay or CA Laurel or Headache Tree or, heaven forbid, Oregon Myrtle is a tree native to the west coast where there is water. In the rainy forests of northern CA and Oregon and the wet creek areas in ravines and canyons of southern CA.
Walking around a barannca the other day along a still wet section of the Ventura River, there was a fruiting bay tree. Fruit that look just like little avocado fruit to which bay is related.
Umbellularia californica is in the Lauraceae along with Persea americana, but sometimes still listed as P. gratissima.
Bay gets its name from the strong bay laurel odor similar to the culinary laurel – Laurus nobilis –, which is not related to avocado. The odor can be so pungent, that taking strong whiffs of it could bring on a headache, hence the alternative name. The tree can attain a 30 feet height as a single trunked tree or be multi-trunked. The wood is gorgeous hard and is notable in the construction of musical instruments. The seeds were roasted and eaten like acorns. There's been a recent craze to eat dried, ground, powdered avocado seeds which has been discouraged by the CA Avocado Commission.
On the north coast, this tree is subject to Sudden Oak Death – Phytophthora ramorum. It is also subject to avocado root rot, just like avocado. It is also the only California native that is subject to Laurel Wilt Disease which is ravaging the laurel forests of the southeast.
CA Laurel in Flower looks a lot like an avocado flower, hence the reason for being in the same family