The wood commonly known as Myrtle is known to botanists and other scientists as Umbellularia californica. U. californica grows in the coastal areas of southwestern Oregon through central California.
For the sake of simplicity and common understanding, I will refer to U. californica as Myrtle from here forward, although the wood is also commonly referred to as Oregon Myrtle as well.
Myrtle heartwood color can be variable, from light orangish brown to gray or olive, sometimes with darker streaks present. Pale sapwood is usually well defined. Figured grain patterns (curly, mottled, burl) are not uncommon.
The grain of Myrtle can be straight, irregular, or wavy. Myrtle has a fine uniform texture with low natural luster.
Heart rot is common in Myrtle, and various decay fungi are known to infect living trees. Myrtle has poor insect resistance.
Myrtle is fairly easy to work, though tearout can occur on pieces with figured grain. Myrtle has a tendency to burn during drilling and routing, and appropriate speeds and sharp cutters are recommended. Myrtle turns, glues, and finishes well.
Myrtle has a strong, spicy odor when being worked.
Pricing and Availability:
Myrtle is occasionally available as smaller lumber or veneer. Per board-foot prices for Myrtle are among the highest for domestic hardwoods. Figured pieces and burls are very expensive.
In this blog, I almost always recommend several vendors with whom I have done considerable business and in whom I have great confidence. These vendors are: West Penn Hardwoods, Bell Forest Products, NC Wood, WoodTurningz, Amazon Exotic Hardwoods, Griffin Exotic Wood, Exotic Woods USA, Got Wood?, and Wood Turning Blanks 4U.
At this time, none of my favored vendors are offering Myrtle, but a quick Internet search for Oregon Myrtle Turning Blanks will yield multiple small vendors but be prepared for quite high prices.
Woodfinder is an excellent website that is dedicated to advertising wood dealers. In your search for Myrtle this can be an invaluable resource provided you use multiple search terms to capture all the possible listings. I can’t speak to the quality of any of the listed dealers, but Woodfinder does have the advantage of allowing searches to be performed based on location which might allow an interested buyer to visit a listed wood dealer in person to hand pick pieces at a comfortable price.
A significant problem with using Woodfinder is that many vendors are listed for woods that, upon further investigation, they do not offer. I don’t know if perhaps once they did and they didn’t update their listings or if some vendors use a standardized list of woods that include most everything conceivable with the idea that once you land on their page you will find something you want to buy even if you didn’t know it beforehand. It happens to me all the time!
Myrtle is most commonly used in the making of veneer, cabinetry, fine furniture, musical instruments (guitar backs), interior trim, gunstocks, turned objects, and other small specialty items.
Myrtle is NOT listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendices nor is it listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
To the best of my knowledge, the United States government does not place any restrictions on Myrtle.
I realize that inherent in working with wood is the killing of a part of the natural world that may be slow to return and if I become deeply concerned about this fact, I will have to find a new hobby. I hope that such a time does not come to pass or at least not any time soon. In part because I am concerned about legally and responsibly obtained wood, I am reluctant to buy from sellers outside of well-established and known vendors. I am highly unlikely, for example, to purchase any wood from auction sites, such as Ebay, because of uncertain sourcing and documentation, as well as the potential, even likelihood, of material being misidentified in order to achieve a higher selling price.