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Cinnamomum camphora, camphor or camphor laurel, is a large evergreen tropical tree in the Lauraceae (laurel family), native to China, Taiwan, and Japan but now cultivated and occasionally naturalized in many tropical regions worldwide, from which is derived a volatile oil used medicinally as an antiseptic and local anesthetic, as well as in respiratory inhalations. The tree is also harvested for its beautifully grained wood, used in furniture, cabinetry, and interior finishes in buildings.

The camphor tree is a large, handsome tree, with a broad oval crown, that grows up to 30 m (100 ft) tall and 3 m (nearly 10 ft) in diameter. It has alternate, somewhat leathery leaves, oval to elliptical, 6 to 12 cm (2.5 to 4.75 cm) long, with acuminate tips (narrowing to a point). The inconspicuous yellow or greenish-white flowers, which are tubular with 6 lobes, grow in panicles (clusters) that are shorter than the leaves. The fruit is a small, globose, fleshy berry, less than 1 cm (0.25 to 0.5 in) in diameter, that ripens to purple black and is partly surrounded by a cup-like perianth (developed from the outer parts of the flower). The whole plant has a strong scent from the camphor oil, an aromatic terpenoid compound, which occurs in the bark, twigs, and leaves.

Camphor was traditionally used in Chinese, Middle Eastern, and medieval European cooking, to flavor sweets and other dishes; culinary uses are still common in Asia, particularly in India. Camphor may be more widely known for its medicinal uses, as an antimicrobial substance and cough suppressant. When applied to the skin, it produces a cooling sensation, so it is an active ingredient (along with menthol) in various anti-itch creams and nasal inhalations; it is also used in aromatherapy. Camphor is also used as a plasticizer for nitrocellulose, as a moth repellant, in embalming, and in fireworks. Solid camphor releases fumes that form a rust-preventative coating, so the crystals are sometimes stored in tool chests.

Camphor trees grow readily in southern California and other parts of the southernmost U.S., and are planted as street trees or, occasionally, as specimen or ornamental trees in parks and gardens. It has become naturalized in some areas, and is classified as invasive in Florida.

(Bailey et al. 1976, Flora of China 2012, Wikipedia 2012.)


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