Oregon Myrtle (Umbellularia Californica), a far-off member of the Laurel family, is indigenous only to the Southern Oregon and Northern Oregon California coast. It is really a bush that sometimes grows into a tree. In California it is generally found in bush form, but in the fertile river bottoms of the Southern Oregon coast it flourishes into a majestic tree.
When the Oregon Myrtle tree matures in the open, it takes on a dome shape to shield itself against the wind. However, in the forest it grows vertical, reaching heights of sixty to one hundred feet. The bush form increases to ten to fifteen feet in height. The tree is proportional with olive-like fruit or nuts. The nuts are not fit for human consumption, but the waxy Myrtle leaves can be used instead of bay leaves. Coloration, texture and grain pattern in the wood changes greatly from yellowish-brown, gray, black, blond, brown, with hints of red, blue, and green. Its surface patterns such as burl, swirls, and fiddleback, with the blend of contrasting colors makes this wood one of the single most distinctive and gorgeous in the world. With so many selections of color and grain, it is unattainable to duplicate a piece. Therefore, every piece made is one-of-a-kind.
This rare tree is slow growing. No one quite knows the age limits of the Oregon Myrtle. It grows to heights of one hundred feet and a diameter of two to six feet. A tree with a thickness of four feet can be as old as five hundred years. It takes centuries for these trees to approach full maturity.
Green (or wet) Myrtlewood is very dense and does stay afloat. Myrtewood planks, if air-dried, will take one year per inch of wood to dry, whereas kiln drying takes seven to ten weeks. If the drying procedure is too fast, the wood may crack or warp. The greatest possible care must be taken when preparing the wood for use.
In addition to Oregon Myrtle, there is Common Myrtle (Myrtus Communis L) an evergreen shrub and relative of the Oregon Myrtle. Common Myrtle springs up wild in Galilee, The Upper Jordan Valley, the Golan, and the Carmel Range. It is used both as decorative and ritually as one of the four species of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. The branches were used in betrothal rites and sometimes for treatment. Also, there are biblical references to the myrtle: "and instead of the briar shall come unto the myrtle tree." (Isaiah 55:13) The Mediterranean variety is an evergreen shrub with closely set upright branches producing a blackish-blue berry fruit that can be used as a condiment. The biblical background of the Oregon Myrtle's relative makes the wood precious and distinctive in the manufacturing of religious pieces. An offering plate, bread plate, or communion tray made of Myrtlewood carry with them a biblically historical story.