Camphor Tree - The Mature Spherical Fruits
The Mature Spherical Fruits

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) is another one admirable tree with multiple utility.

But all of us, who once uppon a time were children and have been forced to use its classic stenchful formulation to cope with the cold, dare to say that we are equally admirable.

And as all this article shows, dedicated to the Camphor tree, that it will be – let’s not be shy with the words – also admirable.

If it is essential, then even better for the persistent and yet endure, in another one unbearable introduction, reader.

Camphor Tree Origin

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree - Great Growth Folliage
Camphor Tree - Great Growth Folliage

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - Brief Description

Scientific name

Cinnamomum camphora (L.) J.Presl.

Common name

Camphor Tree, Camphor Laure, Camphortree, Japanese Camphor, Chinese Sassafras

General characteristics

Type of foliage: Evergreen

Form: Tree, of usually single trunk and oval canopy shape

Texture: Medium

Height: 12-15 m (40-50 ft)

Diameter: 15-21 m (50-70 ft)

Growth rate: Fast

Flowering period (Northern Hemisphere): April – May

Fruiting period: Fall – Winter

Shape and colours

Bark: Green to grayish-brown

Leaves shape: Ovate, obovate

Foliage colour: Green

Foliage colour in autumn: Green

Flowers: Monoecious, panicles

Flowers colour: White with yellowish center

Fruit: Dark blue to black drype

Plantation

Soil type: Well-drained, sand, loam, clay, acidic to slightly alkaline

Exposure: Sun, Half-shade

Soil pH: 4.3-8

Watering: Medium

Hardiness: −4 °C (25 °F – USDA Hardiness zone 9b)

Uses

Specimen, garden, urban streets and parks

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree - The Leaves and Inflorescences in the Beginning - © James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
The Leaves and Inflorescences in the Beginning - © James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - Etymology

Etymology: The name of the genus Cinnamomum comes from the Ancient Greek word ‘κιννάμωμον’, which means ‘spice’ and which later became ‘κίνναμον’ and in this form – cinnamone – it was passed into the Old French language. However, the ultimate origin of the word is Phoenician and is related to the Hebrew ‘קִנמָּוֹ ן’ (qinnāmōn).

The name of species ‘camphora’ has more adventurous and exotic origins. It comes from the Malay Proto-Austronesian language and the word ‘qapuR’, which means ‘lime’ and ‘calcium’. From there, it passed to Sanskrit as ‘karpūraḥ’ to reach through the Arabic and Medieval Latin to French as ‘camphre’. Camphre in the Neo-Latin form of ‘camphora’ gave the name to the species.

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree - The Millenarian Kamou no Ohkusu, Japan
Camphor Tree - The Millenarian Kamou no Ohkusu, Japan

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - Origin & Life Span

Origin: Camphor Tree has its center of origin in Taiwan and Japan. In Japan, tree populations are located on the islands of Ryukyu (琉球), Kyushu (九州), Honshu (本州) – which is also the largest of the islands of the Japanese Archipelago – and the island of Shikoku (四国) – the smallest of bigs on the Land of Rising Sun.

In China, in areas south of the Yangtze River, Korea and Vietnam, where natural Camphor Tree populations are found, at an altitude of 50 to 2100 m (165-6.900 ft), it can be considered as an archaeophyte.

Life Span: Camphor Laure is a long-lived species. In Japan, there is the famous Kamō no Ōkusu (蒲生の大楠), Kamou no Ohkusu, Great Camphor of Kamo (Camo is a suburb of the city of Kagoshima – 鹿児島市), whose age is estimated around 1500 years. The circumference of the tree at the height of 1.3 m (4.2 ft) was measured in 2001 and was only 24.22 m (79.46 ft).

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree - The Square Scaled Bark of the Trunk - © Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Camphor Tree - The Square Scaled Bark of the Trunk - © Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - Morphological Elements

General Description: Camphor Laure is medium-sized and fast-growing evergreen tree, which usually develops a trunk, but sometimes more. The canopy of the tree is mainly oval – rarely ellipsoid – and is generally dense, symmetrical, with a regular outline. Growing up the tree, the crown grows widthwise, giving to Camphor Tree the shape of an upside down cup.

Botanical Description: The roots of the tree are largely surface and extend far enough. Twigs are of medium thickness, pale brown or pink in color, which becomes light brown in the older branches. The trunk is short and the deeply furrowed bark is grayish brown and its perimeter can reach and /or exceed 3 m (10 ft).

The stems and branches are smooth and hairless and rather thin. The buds, the terminal ones are smooth and large, the outers are smaller and scales glabrous while the inners, smaller too, covered with fine silky hair.

The leaves of Camphor Tree are oval and/or obovoid in shape, are acutely and arranged spirally or mainly alternately on the stems to which they are attached by a slender petiole, of 1.5 to 4 cm (0.6-1.6 in) in length. The color of the young leaves, for the first 15 to 20 days, is pink or purple, while in the mature becomes deep green, with three to five distinct yellowish nerves. Their texture is more or less leathery while their size ranges from 7 to 12 cm (2.7-4.7 in) in length and 3 to 5 cm (1.2-2 in) in width.

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree - The Small White with Yellow Center Flowers
he Small White with Yellow Center Flowers

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - Flowers & Fruit

Camphor Tree flowering in Spring, usually in April through May. However, it has been observed to flowering sometime since February, and rarely, it also happens to have a second flowering cycle from August to September.

The flowers of Camphor Tree are found in the same tree – monoecious species – and are hermaphrodite. They are carried on axillary stems of 7 to 10 cm (2.7-3.9 in) in length, which ends in a panicle inflorescence.

A very small pedicel, 1 to 2 mm (0.04-0.8 in), connects them to the flowers.

Flowers are numerous, membranous and fragrant. They are small in size (florets), with a length of about 1.5 mm (0.06 in) and a diameter of 4 to 6 mm (0.16-0.24 in), tubular in shape, while each flower consisted of 6 white acutish tepals. The stamens are carried six outer and three inner, and the broad anthers color is yellow. The ovary has a length and a width of about 1 mm and, like the funnel-shaped, style is smooth.

Pollination occurs with insects (mainly of the Diptera order). The produced fruit is spherical drype with only a seed having a diameter of 6 to 7 mm. Fruit color is very dark blue or black, which it receives during its riper, about the end of summer with autumn, while its diameter varies between 0.5 and 1 cm (0.2- 2.5 in). The fruit attracts the birds, which contribute to the dispersal of the tree.

Camphor Laure begins to blossom from the age of 7 to 25 years old. But essentially after the second decade of its life enters the reproductive phase, forming normal fruits. Fruiting of the tree, outside its natural spreading zone, is sporadic and symptomatic.

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree - The Green Leaves and the Inflorescences
The Green Leaves and the Inflorescences

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - Planting

Temperature: Camphor Tree is a plant that does not tolerand late frosts and very low temperatures. If frost occurs during the period when the new vegetation develops, it burns while the minimum low temperature is -4 °C (24.8 °F), although the well establishment and hardy trees can tolerand temperatures from -5 to -7 °C (23-19.4 °F) without damaging them, and with minimal damage -9 to -12 °C (15.8-10.4 °F). On the other hand, its resistance to heat and high temperatures is extremely huge since it does not face any problems up to 40-41 °C (104-105.8 °F).

Soil and pH: In relation to the soil, Camphor Tree grows in a variety of soil types, while avoiding those who do not have excellent drainage. However, it thrives in moist, fertile and sandy soils which have a slightly acidic to slightly alkaline reaction ranging from 6 to 8 in terms of pH.

Exposure: Camphor Laure can grow and develope in full sunshine and semi-shady places. But high and good quality essential oil production is only observed when the tree is planted in sunny places. Even in these, the difference in quality of essential oil and camphor constituents, between full exposure and shadowing parts of the same plant, is remarkably high.

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree - The Bluish Black Drupe Fruit - © James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Camphor Tree - The Bluish Black Drupe Fruit - © James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - Care

Fertilization: During the planting of Camphor Tree plantlets, a phosphorus-potassium fertilizer is added in an amount of 50 to 150 gr per plant. For established trees, fertilization takes place from the end of the winter to the end of the summer by the use of a complete fertilizer containing the main elements N-P-K in a ratio of 1.5: 1: 1 or 1.5: 1: 1.5. Administration is done either once, as long as it is controlled release, or in 6 doses at a frequency of 1 per month. The amount of administration is determined by the age of the tree and by the particular soil and climatic conditions. Also, the folliar application in mid-March of trace minerals will be beneficial to the tree. No other fertilization treatment is made after the end of the summer.

Irrigation: In its natural niches, Camphor Tree grows in environments with an average annual rainfall of between 1000 and 3500 mm. However, it can, if established, cope long drought periods. Of course, when grown for ornamental purposes, regular watering favors a better growth of the tree and in any case until it is fully established and the development of a strong root system, during the growing period should be taking about 1200 to 1300 mm of water. In relation to the quality of irrigation water, Camphor Laure can be irrigated even with brackish, glyph water.

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree - Attacus Atlas Butterfly
Attacus Atlas Butterfly

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - Plant Protection

Pests: As far as for pests are concerned the aphids, the spider mites and the scales, as well as the Lepidoptera Acrocercops ordinatella and Attacus atlas. By using the appropriate formulations, all these parasites are treated effectively.

Diseases: Of the diseases are referred the Camphor Tree Anthracnose due to the fungus Glomerella cingulata (Colletotrichum gloeosporioides) and the mushroom Armillaria tabescens (Clitocybe tabescens). Sometimes serious problems in the tree are caused by the fungies Verticillium dahliae and Verticillium albo-atrum, whose action has the effect of clogging its vessels, and the Cancer due to the action of the Botryosphaeria dothidea fungus. Although uncommon, infects from these pathogens are difficult to treat and sometimes can lead to necrosis of parts or even the entire tree.

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree - The Spherical Seeds of Cinnamomum camphora - © Steve Hurst, USDA NRCS PLANTS Database, Bugwood.org
Camphor Tree - The Spherical Seeds of Cinnamomum camphora - © Steve Hurst, USDA NRCS PLANTS Database, Bugwood.org

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - Invasiveness

Cinnamomum camphora is a highly adaptive plant in the tropical and subtropical regions of the planet. It is even so adaptive that in some of them it has evolved into an undesirable weed, competing with native forms of vegetation and displacing native trees. This event probably involves a strong dose of natural irony, because in its regions of origin, extensive Camphor Tree forests have disappeared forever because of wild overexploitation by humans.

The countries where Camphor Tree is now a less or more problematic tree are Australia, Bermuda, Cuba, Dominican Republic, French Polynesia, Ghana, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Nepal, New Caledonia, Puerto Rico , Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, the United States, Vietnam and the Virgin Islands.

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree - Native to Japanese Forest
Camphor Tree - Native to Japanese Forest

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - In Garden and Landscape

Camphor Laure is an excellent shade tree. The natural umbrella that its canopy shaped over time, as well as the density of its foliage, suggests such use. On the other hand, specimen planting or in groups in gardens and/or parks gives a distinct tone, as during the fruiting period attracts birds.

Additionally, its excellent tolerance to strong winds makes it suitable for the creation of high windbreaks, while its moderate tolerance to aerosol salts can be exploited on coastal planting but protected by buildings or higher trees.

In any case, due to its surface and extensive root system, it is recommended to plant at least 10 m of buildings or infrastructure networks.

But this property also makes the tree suitable for slopes or to stabilize soils that are at risk of erosion.

Finally, it may be worth mentioning that in the Far East, apart from ornamental or environmental, it is also planted for religious reasons.

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree - Camphor Tablets
Camphor Tablets

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - Pharmaceutical Use

Since ancient times, Camphor Tree has been incorporated into various medical systems for therapeutic purposes, for example for the treatment of hysteria.

Also, it was very often used as a disinfectant when burned during epidemics, but also – even if it is a therapeutic use – and for the ritual burning of the dead (India, Nepal).

In modern medically systems, Camphor Tree is exploited in many ways. The produced Camphor essential oil has anthelmintic and antirheumatic properties and is used for curing from the corresponding diseases. It is still used as anticonvulsant, cardiotonic and sedative.

As a key ingredient in ointments, it is given to relieve muscle pains, joint pains and skin diseases while inhalation relieves from bronchial congestion.

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree - Cut Wood Piece
Camphor Tree - Cut Wood Piece

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - Industrial Use

Its premium quality of wood is used in the furniture industry, while essential oil – in addition to the pharmaceutical industry – is used in cosmetic and lubricant industry and also for the production of soap and detergents.

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) - Industrial Use

Unfortunately, in the music industry does not find scope – exept References. That’s why Japan, as if it is the sole responsible due of Camphor Laure origin, sends its musical apology by Eric Burdon’s enormous voice.

From the Land of the Rising Sun to the House of the Rising Sun.

House of the Rising SunEric Burdon

  1. Firth, D. J. (1979).Ecology of the Cinnamomum camphora (L.)Nees and Eberm (camphor laurel) in the Richmond-Tweed region of north-eastern New South Wales. Armidale, NSW: University of New England.
  2. McLean, A. P. (1996). Behaviour of birds in camphor laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) northern New South Wales. Lismore, N.S.W.: Southern Cross University.
  3. Rätsch, C. (2005). The encyclopedia of psychoactive plants: Ethnopharmacology and its applications. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.
  4. Wiart, C. (2006). Medicinal plants of Asia and the Pacific. Boca Raton: CRC/Taylor & Francis.

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