Plant Species of the San Jacinto Mountains
Umbellularia californica, California bay
California bay, Umbellularia californica, is also known as California bay tree, California laurel, and Pepperwood. In Oregon it is called Oregon myrtle.
California bay is unique in that it is the sole member of the genus Umbellularia, and it is the only member of the laurel family, Lauraceae, native to California. Worldwide, that family has ± 54 genera, and ± 3500 species, mostly in the tropics.
In the field, California bay may be overlooked because of its resemblance to willows. However, it can easily be distinguished from willows by its inflorescence, fruit, and the fact that it is evergreen. Its leaves are highly aromatic exuding a spicy fragrance when crushed or even brushed. It is touted as a flavoring in cooking, but according to some sources it may be toxic to some humans.
U. californica was an uncommon occurrence in our surveys since it lives only below about 6000 feet elevation, and most of our surveys are at higher elevations. Even in our surveys below 6000 feet, we rarely found it, and when we did find it, we generally found only a few plants. This led us to believe that it is a species on the way out in the San Jacintos. We were therefore surprised when we surveyed the Vista Grande Road 3S08 and found a thriving population of at least 50 plants, all at about 4750 feet elevation.
There are a lot of unsurveyed areas on the west side of the San Jacintos at elevations of 4500 to 6000 feet. A targeted search of its habitat in those areas may reveal that it is more abundant than currently known.
Distribution in the San Jacinto Mountains
Table 1 gives all the known locations in the San Jacinto Mountains of Umbellularia californica. Table 1 is sorted by latitude from south to north. The locations come from 25 of our observations, 2 vouchers, and 1 observation each from Mark Reese, Bruce Watts, and iNaturalist.
Table 1. Locations of Umbellularia californica in the San Jacinto Mountains, sorted by latitude from south to north
# Elev(ft) # plants Latitude Longitude Area Source 1 6520 1 33.70854 -116.62509 Spitler Peak Trail Our surveys 2 2944 33.71131 -116.76885 SR74 at Lower Strawberry Creek Our surveys 3 5555 10 33.74261 -116.72949 Idyllwild Park Summit Trail Our surveys 4 3860 20 33.74326 -116.78610 Halfway Spring Our surveys 5 5123 5 33.74332 -116.75198 Spring ne of Alvin Meadow Mark Reese 6 5168 3 33.74349 -116.75288 Just west of spring ne of Alvin Meadow Our surveys 7 3385 33.75063 -116.78925 North Fork at bottom of Fishermans Trail iNat 8 5324 12 33.75252 -116.76429 Webster Trail Our surveys 9 5425 33.76585 -116.75446 5S09 Our surveys 10 5914 2 33.77098 -116.74440 Old road between 5S09 and Al Hatti Our surveys 11 4607 33.77128 -116.76517 5S09 just below Stone Creek Our surveys 12 4291 33.77563 -116.77656 5S09 at North Fork San Jacinto River Our surveys 13 5396 2 33.79672 -116.77596 Mtn bike trail near Indian Vista Bruce Watts 14 5450 1 33.7973 -116.77643 SR243 catercorner corner from Indian Vista Our surveys 15 5600 33.80500 -116.74778 Fuller Mill Creek, 0.5 mi upstream from SR243 Voucher 16 6214 1 33.81228 -116.74928 Black Mountain Road Our surveys 17 5447 6 33.81232 -116.77262 James Reserve Nature Trail Our surveys 18 5212 10 33.81954 -116.78931 Bay Tree Spring Our surveys 19 5162 1 33.82074 -116.79138 SR243 at Call Box 243-160 Our surveys 20 7574 3 33.8227 -116.80587 4S05 oracle oak survey Our surveys 21 4976 1 33.82499 -116.79766 4S05 oracle oak survey Our surveys 22 4715 1 33.82587 -116.80306 4S05 oracle oak survey Our surveys 23 4759 50 33.83562 -116.78647 Vista Grande Road Our surveys 24 4793 33.83623 -116.78462 Vista Grande Road Our surveys 25 4775 33.83678 -116.78228 Vista Grande Road Our surveys 26 4741 33.83817 -116.78151 Vista Grande Road Our surveys 27 4740 33.83882 -116.79714 Vista Grande Road Our surveys 28 4751 33.83929 -116.79905 Vista Grande Road Our surveys 29 4856 33.83977 -116.80378 Vista Grande Road Our surveys 30 1600 33.88066 -116.67567 Snow Canyon, 1500 feet elevation Voucher
We estimated that there were a minimum of 50 plants combining all locations along Vista Grande Road.
The locations are plotted in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1. All known locations of Umbellularia californica in the San Jacinto Mountains.
The locations on the west side of the San Jacinto Mountains are also plotted on a more-detailed topographic map in two maps: Locations near Pine Cove and Locations north of Pine Cover.
Fig. 2 plots the elevation vs. longitude for all the accepted locations. Fig. 3 shows just the locations on the west side.
Except for the voucher in Snow Canyon at 1500 feet elevation, and the single plant near the top of the Spitler Peak Trail at 6520 feet elevation, the elevations range from 3000 to ~6000 feet, with most of the known plants between 4500 and 6000 feet.
Fig. 2. Plot of Elevation vs. Longitude for all known locations in the San Jacinto Mountains.
Fig. 3. Plot of Elevation vs. Longitude for just the locations on the west side of the San Jacinto Mountains.
Distribution in Southern California
We thank Mark Reese for the count of the number of bay trees at Bay Tree Spring and his new location, and Bruce Watts for his new location.
Copyright © 2020 by Dave Stith and Tom Chester.
Commercial rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce any or all of this page for individual or non-profit institutional internal use as long as credit is given to us at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 17 December 2020.