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The camphor tree was introduced to California (and numerous other states) from East Asia, where some of us have encountered it in the movie My Neighbor Totoro by Hayao Miyazaki. Satsuki and Mei’s father says he decided to buy the house when he saw the enormous camphor tree close by, and when Mei investigates the tree more closely, it leads to the clearing where she meets Totoro. Miyazaki’s portrayal of the tree, like the family’s bows to it, is reverential.

Camphor trees can grow to be hundreds of years old and are massive, and when one 700-year-old individual was to be cut down to make room to expand a train station near Osaka, people protested and the expansion was redesigned to be built around it. One would hope humans would treat all 700-year-old or even 200-year-old trees this way, but alas, it is newsworthy when we do.

As you can tell by the genus name, C. camphora is closely related to the trees from which cinnamon is harvested. It is a different species, but both have intensely aromatic oils. The next time I smell camphor, I’m going to consider whether it has any similarity to cinnamon.

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