Bays, Laurels, Myrtles? Clarification.

I had a reader link to this blog from a post I'd made a few years ago on the subject of "bay laurel" trees.  That page of the site is no longer open to comments, or I would correct my comment there.  I assumed a bay was a bay was a bay.  That was in 2013, and I've learned a lot since then!

  • The author of that article was referring to Laurus nobilis the Mediterranean native known as bay or bay laurel, or sweet bay.  They do well in containers, but would need to be brought indoors during the winter.  I do not have a window sunny enough for that. 
  • The tree I grew up with is Umbellularia californica, or California bay, California bay myrtle, or Oregon myrtle.  This is the source of the beautiful mytlewood, as it's called in Oregon, used by woodworkers.  The California bay leaves can be used in cooking, as can the sweet bay leaves, but they are much, much stronger, so use less.  I picked leaves off the trees (to dry and use for cooking) at my childhood home before leaving it to the new owner, who, going by mapping site photos, cut down many of the native trees planted (in some cases, large oaks grown from acorns) by my father. 

Both types of bay can be grown in containers.   Use the largest containers possible, as they will grow to between 4' and 6' high!  Not large considering given their space"Laurus nobilis can reach 35' and record California bays have been 100'!  Plan for them living decades, in containers or the ground.

Umbellularia californica is on my "want" list for next year.


  1. That breaks my heart that oaks planted by your father were cut down. :( Were they closer to the house for the comfort of some folks? My husband likes to keep clear of potential problems, and I'm glad after hearing my neighbor's maple tree dropped a limb through their bathroom ceiling on a rainy day. Ugh... Interesting information, though. Be well!

    1. No, not close to the house at all. It's a HUGE lot, with plenty of room. The homeowners in the area have changed from original 60's owners liking more rural to upscale young families and their ideas of "perfect" landscaping. One complained branches shaded the narrow area along the fence line! So, plant something that likes shade! My father collected seeds on vacations, even in Europe (yes, sent them through the USDA for inspection, I still have the foreign stamps on the envelopes! Last time I saw, so many trees were gone the man must have put in an air conditioning system, because the trees were what kept the house cool! And he added concrete patios instead of the wood decking. Said he "always wanted to live in Lafayette," but was turning the place into a sterile clone.


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