Tree Profiles Myrtlewood Tree

Myrtlewood has a number of different names: bay laurel, pepperwood, and Oregon mytlewood. The wood became popular in woodworking in the 1900s. Blond to black are the colors of the wood. The minerals in the soil create the color of the wood. Some other colors include grey, honey, red, green and other shades of grey.

Myrtlewood grows near rivers and in backyards or along highways. In a human lifetime, about 80 years, the trees can grow from 60 to 120 feet. They make good windbreaks or natural dividers of property. It grows very densely with many branches and a very strong root system so that more trees can grow from it.

To fully cut this tree down, a person must destroy its roots; otherwise, more trees will sprout from the stump. These trees grow and grow. If a person chooses to grow them, they must prune them year round because they keep growing up to a foot a year. Other than pruning, they require little care. They like full sun and deep soil, but can grow in many different conditions.

Freshly crushed leaves make a good flea repellent. The strong smell identifies the bay laurel. Cooking with the three to five inch leaves is the same as cooking with true bay leaves. The long leaves also identify this tree easy.  The tree has small yellow flowers that appear during the winter and brown seed or nuts that fall from the tree in autumn.    

The Bible makes reference to the myrtle tree in Isaiah 55:13. The myrtlewood growing in the Holy Land is a different type than the Oregon myrtlewood. The Holy Land’s type has larger flowers than the bay laurel, but it is just a bush there.

Many artists choose to use bay laurel to make their woodcrafts like bowls and decorative objects. The wood is a hardwood. The Myrtlewood Gallery in Reedsport has many gifts created from this tree. It takes a unique climate and growing conditions found only in Oregon and northwest coast to create the beautiful colors and textures found in the wood.

Its scientific name is Umbelludaria californica and it grows mostly in northern California and southwestern Oregon. The Native Americans used the leaves to clean wounds and to cure headaches. They wrapped the leaves either around their head or put the leaf up one nostril. They made a disinfectant by boiling the leaves in water and used the smoke as a vaporizer. The oils could cure rheumatism. Roasted bay nuts made a good snack. They ground nuts into flour for bread.