The heat waves of the past month have produced a semi-deciduous forest. The leaves pictured here belong to the native bay tree (Umbellularia californica) - also known as 'pepperwood', 'California laurel' and, in Oregon, 'Oregon myrtle', or simply myrtle. This is NOT the leaf found in the store that is sold as a bay leaf (Laurus nobilis). This is yet another late summer drought strategy to reduce the surface area transpiring ever-dimensioning moisture supplies. The lane that leads to my house is littered after a strong wind with needles of the redwoods and the leaves of bay trees. But many needles and leaves remain in this evergreen forest.
We do have leaf fall in my neck of the woods. It’s just a few: the native horse chestnut (Aesculus californica), thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), wild currants (Ribes spp.), spice bush (Calycanthus occidentalis), and maple (Acer macrophyllum). The colors appear washed out or muddy if there is too much heat. A cool, late summer will make the maples glow yellow against a dark-green evergreen forest. The horse chestnut loses all its shriveled-up brown leaves a month or two before the chance of rain as a drought-protective “strategy”. The only bright and clear colors come from the poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) snaking up a Douglas fir or Coast oak, with the most vibrant reds and oranges of any other native plant around my house.
Back in the ‘70s I was experimenting with friends on wild, native, and lesser-known edibles. We skinned the bay fruit, slit the seed’s skin, extracted the nut and proceeded to cook it in a pan until almost a coffee substitute. Tasted “interesting”. It seemed to be only a last-ditch survival food. Little did we know that some lists and books consider the California bay tree to be a toxic plant. This includes the leaves that we so naively used as a free substitute in a sauce for spaghetti – long before it was called “pasta”.
Except for this uncontrollable twitch, I seem fine. So it probably didn’t effect me.
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