Chilean laurel (Laurelia sempervirens)

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Close up of the leaves of Chilean laurel
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Chilean laurel fact file

Chilean laurel description

KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderLaurales
FamilyMonimiaceae
GenusLaurelia (1)

The Chilean laurel (Laurelia sempervirens) is a large, evergreen tree with smooth, pale bark that cracks with age, coming off in roughly circular plates (5) (6). Both the wood and the leaves are strongly aromatic (4) (5) (6). The bright green leaves of the Chilean laurel are arranged in opposite pairs, and are oblong in shape, narrowed at the base. The leaves are leathery in texture, shiny, and around 5 to 10 centimetres long and 2.5 to 5 centimetres wide (4) (5) (6). The gently serrated edges help distinguish this tree from the closely related Laureliopsis (Laurelia) philippiana, which has more deeply toothed leaf margins (7).

Also known as
Chilean sassafras, trihue.
Synonyms
Laurelia aromatica.
Size
Height: up to 40 m (2) (3)
Trunk diameter: up to 2 m (4)
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Chilean laurel biology

The Chilean laurel flowers between October and November (4). The small, greenish-white flowers are borne on inflorescences of between 5 and 20 flowers, and are usually unisexual (containing either male or female reproductive organs), although both male and female flowers occur on the same tree (4) (5) (6). Fruiting takes places between January and February (4), the fruit consisting of a small, green, woody capsule, around 1.5 to 2.5 centimetres in length, containing a single seed. The seed of the Chilean laurel is oval or spindle-shaped, and covered in short hairs (4) (6).

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Chilean laurel range

The Chilean laurel is endemic to Chile, where it is restricted to the centre of the country, from the region of O’Higgins south to Los Lagos (1) (7), at elevations of up to 700 metres (4).

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Chilean laurel habitat

The Chilean laurel inhabits moist seasonal forest, preferring deep, moist soils (1) (4) (8).

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Chilean laurel status

The Chilean laurel is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened

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Chilean laurel threats

The wood of the Chilean laurel is used for cabinets and furniture (3) (9) and as timber in construction, and the flowers, leaves and bark are used in traditional medicine to treat a range of conditions from colds to headaches (1) (4) (8) (10). The species is also used to dye wool a greenish colour (4), and the fruits and seeds are reported to be used as a spice, known as Chilean nutmeg (11). As a result of these uses, the Chilean laurel may be under threat from overexploitation in the north of its range (1).

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Chilean laurel conservation

There are no known conservation measures currently in place for the Chilean laurel. It is not thought to be globally threatened (1), but, especially considering its somewhat restricted distribution, the species may benefit from further monitoring to ensure it does not suffer too heavily from overexploitation in the future.

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Find out more

Read more about the Chilean laurel and other plant species in Chile:

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Authentication

Authenticated (27/09/09) by Dr Bernardo Gut.

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Evergreen
A plant which retains leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous plants, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
Inflorescence
The reproductive shoot of a plant which bears a group or cluster of flowers.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Hoffmann, J.A.E. (1997) Flora Silvestre de Chile, Zona Araucana. Árboles, Arbustos y Enredaderas Leñosas. El Mercurio S.A.P., Santiago de Chile.
  3. Chester, S. (2008) A Wildlife Guide to Chile. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  4. Enciclopedia de la Flora Chilena (February, 2009)
    http://www.florachilena.cl/Niv_tax/Angiospermas/Ordenes/Laurales/Monimiaceae/Laurel/Laurelia%20sempervirens.htm
  5. Hillier, J. and Coombes, A. (2007) The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs. David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon.
  6. Donoso, C., Premoli, A., Gallo, L. and Ipinza, R. (2004) Variación Intraespecífica en las Especies Arbóreas de los Bosques Templados de Chile y Argentina. Editorial Universitaria, Santiago, Chile.
  7. Gut, B. (2008) Trees in Patagonia. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, Switzerland and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  8. Chileflora.com (February, 2009)
    http://www.chileflora.com/Florachilena/FloraEnglish/HighResPages/EH0142.htm
  9. Riedemann Moellinghoff, P. and Aldunate Noël, G. (2003) Flora Native de Valor Ornamental. Chile, Zona Sur. Identificación y Propogación. Editorial Andrés Bello, Santiago de Chile.
  10. Muñoz, O., Montes, M. and Wilkomirsky, T. (2004) Plantas Medicinales de Uso en Chile: Química y Farmacología. Editorial Universitaria, Santiago, Chile.
  11. Seidemann, J. (2005) World Spice Plants: Economic Usage, Botany, Taxonomy. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
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Image credit

Close up of the leaves of Chilean laurel  
Close up of the leaves of Chilean laurel

© Keith Rushforth / www.flpa-images.co.uk

FLPA - images of nature
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http://www.flpa-images.co.uk

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