Cinnamomum camphora

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A medium to large sized evergreen tree with short trunk branching low down. Crown dome-shaped, foliage dense and light green. A native of China and East Asia. Commonly grown as an ornamental and shade tree in South Africa but invasive in coastal bush, for
© Ellis RP
Leaves alternate, simple, entire margined, ovate to elliptic and prominently 3-veined near the base. Smelling of camphor when bruised. Flowers in panicles, very small and greenish-white. Appear in spring.
© Ellis RP
Bark thick, rough, deeply longitudinally fissured and cracked into a grid-like pattern. Wood distilled to extract natural camphor with antiseptic, rubefacient and analgesic properties. Bark now used in traditional African medicine for colds, fever, flu an
© Ellis RP
Habit at Makawao Maui, Hawaii
© Forest and Kim Starr
Leaves at Makawao, Maui Hawaii
© Forest and Kim Starr

Local names:
Chinese (Xiang-zhang,Zhang-shu), Creole (kafm,bom zangle), Dutch (Kamferboom), English (camphor tree,camphor laurel,Japanese camphor), French (camphrier,camphre,baume anglais,Arbre a camphre), German (Kampferßaum), Hindi (karpuram,karpur), Italian (canfo

Cinnamomum camphora is a small, glabrous tree, up to 40 m tall with a diameter of up to 3 m. The bark is yellow or brown with vertical fissures. 

Leaves alternate, simple, with 3 to several distinct nerves and penniverved with stout dormant buds enclosed in large, silky orbicular concave, imbricating caducous scales and a strong smell of camphor when crushed.

Flowers bisexual, in lax axillary, terminal panicles on the ends of the twigs, creamy white in colour, hermaphroditic, actinomorphic; ovary 1, locular; ovule 1, pendulous or basal; stamens definite, free; anthers opening by valves or slits; embryo minute.

The fruit is a round, one-seeded, fleshy drupe, 7-8 mm wide, purple-black at maturity.

The etymology of C. camphora is derived from the Greek word ‘kinnamomon’ (meaning spice).  The Greeks borrowed the word from the Phoenicians, indicating that they traded with the East from early times. Cinnamon is recorded in Sanskrit, the Old Testament, and in Greek medicinal works, and was used by Egyptians as early 1485 BC for embalming purposes.


C. camphora occurs throughout much of Southeast Asia, but its exact distribution and abundance are not known with any certainty. Large areas of wild trees once grew in Japan and Taiwan, but these largely disappeared through over-exploitation for camphor production in the years up to World War II.

Native range
China, India, Japan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Province of China

Tree management

Although yields of C. camphora are greater for old trees, leaves and woody material can be harvested regularly from plants over 5 years of age, which are kept in a bushy form by coppicing. The Chinese practice this form of harvesting.

In China and India intensive site-preparation before planting out is common practice. It involves ploughing soil to a depth of 30 cm and digging individual planting holes 60 x 60 x 50 cm. Planting dates depend on the region. In China, stock is planted from January to March, in Tamil Nadu, India, in January-February. In other parts of India it is planted after the monsoon has set in. The planting age of seedlings depends on the region, site and purpose. Spacing is generally 2 x 2 m or 1.8 x 3.5 m.

Seed storage behaviour is orthodox. Dry seeds can be stored, but longevity is short (12 months) at ambient temperature. There is little loss in viability after 12 months in moist storage at 5 deg. C with about 34% mc. P50 = 250 days when stored 1st at 25 deg. C with 80-91% r.h. for 2 weeks, then at 4 deg. C with 80% r.h. There are approximately 6600-10 000 seeds/kg.

This species has been classified as minimally recalcitrant, but no evidence of desiccation sensitivity is given. The fact that seeds can be stored dry at ambient temperatures for 6 months (resulting in 25% germination, compared with 55% germination before storage) suggests that they are not recalcitrant.

After harvest the fruits are afterripened in the shade for 2-3 days. The pulp is removed after the fruits have been soaked in water for 12-16 hours. It is important that the seeds (pyrenes) are dried in the shade to avoid desiccation damage. 3-4 kg fruits yield 1 kg of seed.

C. camphora occurs throughout much of Southeast Asia, but its exact distribution and abundance are not known with any certainty. Large areas of wild trees once grew in Japan and Taiwan, but these largely disappeared through over-exploitation for camphor production in the years up to World War II.

C. camphora can be raised from seeds, layers, branch cuttings, root cuttings and root suckers. Propagation by seed, however, is the normal practice. After the pulp has been removed from the fruit, the seed should be sown immediately in beds or trays especially during late winter to early spring and covered with 1 cm soil. The germination rate of fresh seed is about 50%, falling to 25% for seed 6 months old, and 0 for those 1 year old. Soaking seeds for 24 hours in lukewarm water hastens germination.

Germination can be rather slow and may continue up to one year after sowing. The nursery bed should be kept free from weeds and watered regularly. The soil in the beds should be loosened at regular intervals when the seedlings begin to appear. During the first rainy season or early autumn, the seedlings should be thinned to a spacing of 10-15 cm x 20-25 cm.

Timber:  The sapwood is whitish or brownish, and the heartwood brownish-yellow with a green cast, or olive to light olive-brown to blackish-brown, with a medium to coarse texture, satiny or silky lustre, straight and often rosy grain, spicy odour, and excellent working qualities. 

Ornamental: In some countries such as Nepal, the tree is not planted for camphor production, but is mainly planted in gardens and at the entrances of houses for religious reasons, and as an ornamental tree, though the wood is valuable.

Intercropping: In China, intercropping with agricultural crops is practised at the seedling stage.

Essential oil:  Fractionation of the camphor-free oil obtained from C. camphora provides an oil rich in safrole (80% or more), usually called Chinese sassafras oil. C. camphora is a well-known chemotype; on distillation, the wood from different groups of