Camphor Trees – Should you plant one?

Ahh, the magnificent and contentious Camphor tree. These trees stay green year long, provide plenty of shade, emit a fragrant minty smell and are just one of those trees you want to go up and give a good hug. Ask another tree lover, however, and they might say the camphor is one tree to steer clear of.

camphor tree in a residential neighborhood
The Camphor Tree can grow an incredibly wide spread canopy.

Now, I’ll admit that these trees have a lot going against them. They are invasive to some parts of the U.S., spread like crazy, are not the most sturdy trees, are susceptible to disease, and their long roots can do serious damage to sidewalks and septic tanks. Given the right setting and owner, however, the camphor can become a wonderfully beautiful shade tree for those willing to put in the effort.

Is a Camphor Tree not for you? Take a look at these beautiful Dogwood Trees instead!

The Camphor tree is an evergreen tree in the Laurel family, and is native to Asia where they are often grown commercially for harvesting camphor oil. They have shiny, elliptical leaves that are light-bright green when first sprouted, and then turn a deep green when older.

Camphor tree in a field

It’s small flowers bloom on three-inch-long panicles and are a greenish white to pale yellow color. Small, dark-blue to black berries appear in the spring, and are irresistible to birds. Although most camphor trees reach heights of 25-50 feet, a few rare specimens have grown up to 100-feet tall.

A Brief History – Cinnamomum Camphora

The Camphor Tree was brought to the American South in 1875 and planted on plantations, where it was grown for the same purpose: harvesting the strong, odorous camphor oil from its leaves and bark.

Cut a stem or crush a leaf in your hands, and you will immediately notice the strong aroma of the camphor oil. The oil is distilled using steam, and is used as a liniment, or balm, in products like Tiger Balm and is a mild pain reliever used in certain medicines. It also works as an insect repellant and to relieve chest congestion and inflammatory conditions.

Camphor tree leaves with dark-blue berries.
Although camphor berries are not edible to humans, birds love feasting on the ripe berries.

Camphors are also incredibly long lived trees. The best examples of these ancient wonders are in their native land of Japan. The Shoren’in Shrine in Kyoto boasts a camphor tree that is several hundred years old, and is labeled as a city-designated natural monument. Another camphor at Yamada Shrine in Tottori is considered sacred by people in that area because it was reportedly planted more than 1,000 years ago. The oldest camphor in Japan, however, may be the giant specimen at Kawago in Takeo City. This behemoth is the country’s fifth-largest tree and is supposedly more than 3,000 years old.

Not only are these amazing trees long-lived, they are also capable of surviving the worst that man can throw at them. In 1973, Japan named the camphor the official tree of Hiroshima in commemoration of those trees that miraculously recovered from the U.S. atomic bombing of the city. As these trees sprouted new leaves and bark, they also gave people hope to begin rebuilding their lives.

Invasive Camphors

Unfortunately, there are major downsides to this wonderful tree. The Camphor tree is considered a Class 1 invasive pest in Florida and Texas, which makes it incredibly harmful to those environments. It is spread rapidly by birds eating the camphor berries, and is tough to get rid of, allowing it to easily displace other native shrubs and plants. One such plant is the endangered Florida jujube (Ziziphus celatus), a native species in Florida that is being pushed out by camphor tree. 

Fast Growers

Camphor trees will grow rapidly their first few years, then slow to 24 inches per year beyond that. In my own yard, I’ve found camphor trees grown from birds dropping their seeds to grow from seed to 4-5 feet in several months. Because camphors are fast-growing and can grow quite large, you should think twice before planting a camphor close to your house, garage, or on a small lot.

If you have one in your yard, it’s best to watch for any “strays” that pop up elsewhere in your yard. Be sure to remove each and every root of a camphor tree if you want to be sure it won’t re-grow in the same spot. Otherwise, you will end up with your own Camphor tree plantation.

Should you plant one?

The consensus online is that…well, there is none. People either love them or hate them. I love them because I get to look at two beautiful camphor trees that are growing on my block from a safe distance. I am saved the trouble of keeping up with their pruning, and I don’t have to deal with constantly pulling pesky camphor “minions” that pop up.

So, my cautious advice is to only plant a camphor if you have the space, time and money to take care of one. Plant one – just one – in the largest space in your yard, where it’ll give you the most amount of shade in the summer. After you’ve planted it, have a professional inspect and trim your young tree to ensure it ends up as a manageable, yet beautiful shade tree.

Large camphor tree with a wide canopy

Pruning your Camphor Tree

Your camphor will require some regularly trimming when it’s young and only occasional attention as a mature tree. Trimming low branches when it’s young will result in a more compact, manageable canopy in the future. Otherwise, the tree will develop a much more open, wide-spreading canopy that has the potential of drooping significantly.

A pruned camphor tree
This camphor was pruned to have a more compact, upright canopy.

Cut branches back to the where they originate, making sharp, clean cuts flush next to the stems with sterilized pruning shears, as to not spread disease. Pruning branches growing near the base will help develop a single and strong main trunk. Then, prune branches growing on the trunk so one stands every 18 to 30 inches apart.

You can remove damaged or diseased branches from an older camphor at any time of year, and if your tree is outgrowing a small space, simply prune it back in the winter to control its growth. Topping, or blunt cutting your camphor tree is not a good idea, as it will result in far more dead branches likely to fall in the future.

Constant trimming with a chainsaw can result in more problems down the road, and there are instances when careful, professional trimming is in order. Call someone who knows what they are doing so you end up with a safe and healthy tree.

Camphor tree

How to Grow Camphor Trees

Tree Site Conditions & Constraints

  • Sunset Zones 8, 9 and 12 – 24.
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 9 – 11.
  • Exposure Full Sun to Partial Shade.
  • Moist Soil.
  • Clay, Loam or Sand Texture.
  • Slightly Acidic to Highly Alkaline Soil pH.
  • Salinity Tolerance is Moderate on Coast.
  • Seaside Tolerance is Good in Mild Zone.

Pests & Disease Information

Susceptible to:

  • Anthracnose
  • Armillaria
  • Phytophthora
  • Root Rot
  • Verticillium

Health, Safety & Environmental Concerns

  • Branch Strength Rated as Strong.
  • Root Damage Potential Rated as High.
  • Allergy Health Hazard.
  • Biogenic Emissions considered Low.
  • Fire Resistance is Favorable.
  • Attracts Birds.
  • Extremely invasive in some parts of the U.S.

Camphor Tree FAQ

Are Camphor Trees Invasive?

Yes, Camphor Trees are invasive to many parts of the world, including Florida, Georgia and Texas. Introduced to Australia in 1822, the weed quickly became a noxious weed throughout Queensland and New South Wales. Camphor trees spread rapidly and prevent native plants in these areas from growing and germinating.

How fast do Camphor Trees grow?

Camphor trees will grow rapidly their first few years, then slow to 24 inches per year beyond that.

How long do Camphor Trees live?

The camphor tree can live anywhere from 50 to 150 years. Although, there are many old camphors in Japan, and one even reported to be up to 3,000 years old.

Are Camphor Tree berries edible?

No, the berries are toxic to humans in large quantities. Birds, however, love eating the berries.

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What you should know before planting a camphor tree
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12 thoughts on “Camphor Trees – Should you plant one?”

  1. I just endured Hurricane Michael this past fall, and it wiped out about 80% of our trees. The only ones left standing are some native pines, landscaped crape myrtles, landscaped palm trees, and then the camphors. I have two in my yard three in my yard that are standing tall and strong and two babies (sprouts only a couple feet). The storm took 17 of my 21 trees (including my beloved cedar and some gorgeous shade tree), and I’m not keen on removing the three well-established camphors. On the other hand, those sprouts I was considering transplanting (since one’s near my septic and one’s literally touching the house). Should I not transplant these baby trees since they’re invasive? I desperately need shade and my area desperately needs trees fast, but I want to be responsible. Anyone have any advice for me? Also, since it’s Class 1 Invasive Species, is it something illegal to even intentionally plant in Florida (thus illegal to transplant)? Thanks in advance for any guidance!

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  2. Please! Never plant a camphor tree!!! This is the most invasive tree, our property is overrun with seedlings everywhere, the ones that have grown on the vacant property nearby, actively try to kill the slower growing native trees by choking out their sunlight. In ten years time a camphor can kill a native live oak tree, and we fight to keep them cut back all year long here. Our native insects don’t feed on camphors, so there are fewer birds around too. There are thousands of these trees that sprout every year, all year long here, (South Alabama), and now they are in the woodland areas. Yes, it’s a beautiful tree, but it belongs in its native land.

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  3. I bought a home in Fla. with a Camphor tree in the front yard about20/25′ from the house. It’s a lovely tree pruned to a more upright tall than a large wide spread. I’m concerned about the roots and closeness to the house, but I don’t want to cut it down as it gives valuable shade.
    Suggestions?

    Reply
  4. There seems to be two types of Camphor trees in Florida, one grows to be quite large and the other type doesn’t grow much over 15 ft, and has a different bark, have you heard of this

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  5. We have two camphor trees in our yard. We planted one 17 years ago, and it is beautiful. They are grate for shade. We planted another one 3 years ago, and it’s taller then me now, and I’m 5’10. My grandmother also has one in her yard, and she told me when they bought that house over 60 years ago, that tree was already there. It’s very old, and still beautiful. When it says take care of the little ones that growing, you need to, because once it starts, and the root gets to long, will not be able to get rid of it. You have to have a big yard, to plant one of them.

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  6. I have a tree about 6 feet tall. It’s trunk & branches are dark green. My neighbor says it’s a Camphor tree. Are they right?

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  7. I recently visited Galveston Island to visit some of the art galleries. I found a number of wooden sculptures that were sculted from camphor. The wood had striking colors that really made it stand out. When I asked about the type of wood, and was informed that these pieces were all carved from the camphor trees that were victims of huricane Ike. I thought the pieces were beautiful and wondered if this wood is conside and hard or soft wood and does anyone make furniture from this wood.

    Thanks,
    Bill

    Reply

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