Common Name: Camphor tree, Camphor laurel and Camphorwood.
Etymology: Cinnamomum: from the Greek word kinnamomon meaning spice.
Origin: China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Introduced to Australia in 1822 where it has become a noxious weed in Northern NSW and Queensland. It is also a category 1 invasive species in Florida USA.
Description: Tree to 20m tall and similar spread with cylindrical trunk and reasonably dense crown.
Foliage: Leathery alternate, ovate to elliptical, tapering to point, 5-10cm long and 2-5cm wide. Leaves are pink when young maturing to glossy-green above and dull, slightly blue green below, wavy at margins. The leaves give off strong smell of camphor when crushed.
Bark/Trunk: Light to dark grey, brown and hard with deep vertical fissures.
Flowers: Greenish white to cream, 3-5mm across with 6 lobes in 2 whorls and 9 stamens. They group in axillary panicles among the upper leaves. Flowering spring and summer.
Fruit: Green turning purplish black globular berries, 8-10 mm across seated in shallow green cups, ripe in autumn.
Growth Requirements: Full sun to part shade. Prefers moist, fertile soil but will grow in most types of soil, infact will tolerate pH ranging from 4.3 to 8. Prefers a mild to sub-tropical climate but will survive occasional temperatures as low as -10 degrees Celsius. Young leaves, however, even in mature trees are sensitive to frost.
Uses: In Australia: Originally planted as shade trees in paddocks, streets and gardens. It is bird, butterfly and animal attracting as it provides hollows quickly in young trees and birds also enjoy the berry. The down side of this is that birds help to spread the tree even quicker, they out compete native species using leaf litter to prevent there growth similar to the Casuarina, the root systems damage drains and infrastructure and the high carbon content in the leaves reduces the water quality in streams. Having said this, this is a beautiful, outstanding tree in its natural environment. Other and more traditional uses include in cooking to flavour sweets and other dishes in Asia (particularly India), for its medical uses as an antimicrobial substance and cough suppressant, applied to the skin for cooling sensation, as anti-itching cream, nasal spray and in aromatherapy. It is also used in fireworks, for embalming, as a moth repellent and solid Camphor gives of fume forming rust inhibiting coating so are sometime stored as crystals in tool boxes. The Camphor tree also featured as the giant tree in in the Studio Ghibli anime classic ‘My Neighbor Totoro’.
Propagation: Easily propagated from seed.
Sources of information:
- Australian Trees by Leonard Cronin.
- Photography by Simon Schubert.