Important Note: The seeds on this page will benefit greatly from using the CAPE Smoke Seed Germination Primer that we use in our own greenhouses. We find we receive significantly better germination results when we use this primer on these types of seeds.
Location: Camphor tree comes from China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and adjacent parts of East Asia, where it grows in mesic forests and on well-drained sites along streambanks. Camphor has become widely naturalized in Australia. In the United States, it is grown along the Gulf Coast and in California, and has escaped cultivation and become naturalized in many areas.
Culture: Camphor prefers fertile sandy soil. It will
tolerate a pH anywhere in the range of 4.3 to 8. The roots are
very sensitive to disturbance. They may extend far from the
trunk of the tree, and can readily be identified by their
Light: Camphor will grow in full sun or partial shade.
Moisture: Camphor tree does not do well in wet soils. Established trees are tolerant of drought.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 10. Hardened off camphor trees can survive freezes down to 10-15 F, but new growth will suffer freeze burn when the temperature drops below 32 and branches will die back from temperatures in the low twenties. Propagation: Camphor seed does not remain viable for long and should be planted in the greenhouse as soon as it ripens. Remove the fruit pulp first. At 68 F, germination will take 1-6 months. Cuttings of semiripe side shoots can be rooted in a warm humid place in midsummer. Pieces 2-3" long with a heel work best.
Usage: Camphor is widely planted as a shade tree, screen, or windbreak. In China and Japan, it is grown commercially for its medicinal oil. Camphor oil has a strong penetrating fragrance, a pungent bitter flavor, and feels cool on the skin like menthol, though it also has irritating qualities as well as a numbing effect. Camphor has been used to treat ailments ranging from parasitic infections to toothaches. Scientific evidence has confirmed that chemicals in the plant have value in antiseptics and medications for treating diarrhea, inflammation, itching, and nervous conditions. Camphor wood is prized for its attractive red and yellow striping, amenability to woodworking, and insect repelling properties. It is light to medium in weight and soft to medium in hardness. Wood from the camphor tree is not especially strong, but it takes polishing well. It is commonly used for chests, closets, coffins, instruments, and sculptures. Camphor veneer is used in fine cabinetry. Camphor is also used in perfumes.
Features: This is a sturdy storm resistant tree which makes a good windbreak. Since it is hard to burn, it should also be valuable as a shade tree in areas that are prone to wildfires. Unfortunately, these desirable traits are offset by the tree's invasiveness and damaging effects on wildlife and natural communities. This fine tree should be grown and appreciated in its native range, but not planted in other regions where species and ecosystems have not adapted to its aggressiveness and toxicity. Camphor tree should not be grown in the United States.
WARNING: Camphor in large doses is toxic to humans. It
stimulates the central nervous system and may affect
respiration or cause convulsions. In Chinese medicine, camphor
is forbidden for pregnant women and those with a deficiency of
vital energy or yin. Australian research indicates that camphor
poisoning may be having damaging effects on wildlife. The green
fruits, leaves, and roots are toxic and the fruits are high in
chemicals known to cause sterility in birds. Camphor trees have
been associated with fish kills and the absence of frogs in
nearby wetlands. Camphor is a prolific seed producer that
apparently does not have serious predators or diseases outside
its native range. Seedlings and root sprouts are abundant near
mature trees, but individual trees pop up far from seed
sources. In Florida, camphor trees appear in undisturbed mesic
hardwood forests, upland pine woods, and scrubs, as well as in
the vacant lots and fencerows where it is more commonly
observed. The Plant Conservation Alliance lists this species as
an Alien Invader and it is listed as a Category I invasive
exotic species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, which
means that it is known to be "invading and disrupting native
plant communities in Florida."