You wouldn’t normally associate the Caribbean with the often called California Bay Laurel, but it is a very common tree on the island of St. Lucia. The leaves tend to be much larger than those from California trees, or from what you would expect to use as a seasoning. The wood itself has a pungent spicy odor, and is known as a very fine tonewood for use in musical instruments. The Wood Database states that the board-foot prices are among the highest for domestic hardwoods, with figured pieces and burls being very expensive. Our abundant supply means we have very competitive prices with a domestic hardwood, despite being imported.
Common Name(s): Myrtle, Oregon Myrtle, California Bay Laurel, Pepperwood
Scientific Name: Umbellularia californica
Distribution: Coastal regions of southwest Oregon and central California
Tree Size: 50-80 ft (15-24 m) tall, 2-3 ft (.6-1 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 40 lbs/ft3 (635 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .51, .63
Janka Hardness: 1,270 lbf (5,650 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 9,700 lbf/in2 (66.9 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 1,225,000 lbf/in2 (8.45 GPa)
Crushing Strength: 5,640 lbf/in2 (38.9 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 2.8%, Tangential: 8.1%, Volumetric: 11.9%, T/R Ratio: 2.9
Color/Appearance: Heartwood color can be variable, from light orangish brown to gray or olive, sometimes with darker streaks present. Pale sapwood is usually well defined. Figured grain patterns (curly, mottled, burl) are not uncommon.
Grain/Texture: Grain can be straight, irregular, or wavy. Has a fine uniform texture with low natural luster.
Endgrain: Diffuse-porous; solitary and radial multiples; medium to large pores in no specific arrangement, few to moderately numerous; tyloses mineral/gum deposits occasionally present; parenchyma vasicentric; narrow rays, spacing normal.
Rot Resistance: Heart rot is common, and various decay fungi are known to infect living trees. Poor insect resistance.
Workability: Fairly easy to work, though tearout can occur on pieces with figured grain. Has a tendency to burn during drilling and routing, and appropriate speeds and sharp cutters are recommended. Turns, glues, and finishes well.
Odor: Has a strong, spicy odor when being worked.
Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Myrtle has been reported to be a skin irritant as well as a sensitizer.
Pricing/Availability: Occasionally available as smaller lumber or veneer. Per board-foot prices are among the highest for domestic hardwoods. Figured pieces and burls are very expensive.
Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Common Uses: Veneer, cabinetry, fine furniture, musical instruments (guitar backs), interior trim, gunstocks, turned objects, and other small specialty items.
Comments: Known by a wide variety of local or regional common names. Technically not related to true myrtle (Myrtus genus), Myrtle is the only species in the Umbellularia genus, and is technically in the Lauraceae (Laurel) family. It’s sometimes called California Laurel, and the leaves have a pungent flavor similar to Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis).
The wood itself has poor strength values for its weight, and is typically used for more aesthetic purposes, rather than in applications where strength is important.