Thymus camphoratus (Camphor Thyme)

Thymus camphoratus, commonly called Camphor Thyme, is a small, aromatic, evergreen shrub with a compact cushion form. It has small green leaves and large round heads of tiny pink flowers and reddish-pink bracts.

It is a drought-tolerant shrub native to the Mediterranean basin, specifically to South West Portugal.


Quick Overview

TYPE

Type Shrub

HEIGHT&WIDTH

thymus_camphoratus height and width

BLOOM TIME

Thymus camphoratus bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun

HARDINESS

hardiness (-10ºC / 14º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 3 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Camphor Thyme scientific name

  • Botanical name: Thymus camphoratus (TY-muss kam-for-AH-tus)
  • Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Camphor Thyme
NameMeaning
ThymusThere are several versions of the origin of the name:
1- From the Greek word thymon meaning smoke or to fumigate. Related to its use as an incense for its fragrance.
2- From the Greek word thumos meaning courage. Thyme symbolised bravery.
3- From the Greek word thymos, meaning perfume. Because of its intense fragrance
camphoratusThe Latin word meaning Like Camphor.

How to identify Thymus camphoratus

Thymus camphoratus shrub (Camphor Thyme)

Shrub

Small, aromatic evergreen shrub with a cushion shape that eventually forms a ground cover.

It is densely branched with creeping, or erect stems full of small green leaves and topped with rounded heads of tiny light pink flowers and reddish-pink bracts.

This shrub is very aromatic with a distinct camphor smell, hence its name Camphor Thyme.

The shrub has an average height of  20 to 30 cm (0.6 to 1 ft) and a width of about 40 ( 1.3 ft)

Thymus camphoratus stem (Camphor Thyme)

Stem

The stems are upright or spreading, with reddish-green colour and very short hairs.

Young stems are squared but become rounder and woody at the base as they age.

They have opposite leaves at each node and tufts of smaller foliage in the leaf axils. Flower heads appear on the top.

Thymus camphoratus leaf (Camphor Thyme)

Leaf

The leaf is slightly succulent, green on top and whitish-green underneath, with a yellow-green stalk

The shape is oval-triangular with down-turned margins and densely haired underneath

Strongly aromatic with eucalyptus scent, especially when crushed.

The size varies between 6 and 8 mm ( 0.2 and 0.3 in) long and 2 and 4.5 mm (0.07 and 0.17 in) wide.

Thymus camphoratus flower (Camphor Thyme)

Flower

The inflorescence has a round form of 10 to 15 mm  (0.4 to 0.6 in) in diameter. It is composed of tiny flowers and bracts arranged in whorls around the stem.

The flowers are light pink with a fused corolla. They are two-lipped, the upper lip has 2 lobes almost fused into one, and the lower lip has 3 lobes. 

The bracts are broadly ovate, reddish pink and hairy The stamens are pink and stick out from inside the corolla.

The flowers bloom in spring.

Thymus camphoratus Usage

Ornamental

The Camphor thyme has a dense cushion form that eventually forms a ground cover covered with light pink flowers. It is very attractive and appreciated as an ornamental plant.

It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. Can be planted in pots, beds or borders. In rock gardens,  gravel gardens, and aromatic gardens. 

They are very interesting as a ground cover and ideal for filling in crevices of pavements, as they tolerate occasional walking on.

They are suited for low-maintenance gardens due to their low need for watering and weeding (allelopathic)

Medicinal

Thymus camphoratus has been used as a medicinal herb in Portugal for many centuries to treat cough and respiratory tract infections. The essential oil has also been used to treat pain from inflammatory conditions and applied as a disinfectant for minor cuts and wounds.

Studies have demonstrated its anti-inflammatory properties.

Cosmetics

The essential oil obtained from the Camphor Thyme plant is used in perfumery, and mouthwash solutions.

Culinary

Camphor Thyme, has an intensely bitter flavour and should be used in cooking with moderation.

It is very good for roasting meat and stews, which can benefit from its strong flavour.

Biodiversity

The pretty flowers of Comphor Thyme are rich in nectar and very attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. This enhances the biodiversity of your garden.

Cultural

Thyme symbolises love and courage. The knight´s cloaks and tunics would have thyme leaves embroidered by their loved ones.

Greeks believed that thyme would bring courage and motivation and used thyme sprigs in baths and the clothes of knights before battles.

Thymus camphoratus habitat

This shrub is native to the southwest coast of Portugal. It can be found growing wild in dunes, shrubland and pine woods near the sea.

It is extremely resistant to adverse environments with windy maritime exposure.

How to care for Thymus camphoratus

Cold exposure

It’s a hardy plant and tolerates temperatures down to -10ºC (14ºF). However, it will need winter protection until it is fully established. Add some mulch to protect the roots from low temperatures and the foliage from the wet soil.

Sun exposure

Needs full sun, at least 6 hours per day.

Soil

Camphor thyme likes poor, well-drained stony soils. It thrives best in neutral and alkaline soils.

Watering

Thymus camphoratus is native to the Mediterranean basin and adapted to hot, dry summers. So it rarely needs watering once established. It won´t tolerate wet conditions.

During its evolution, it developed mechanisms for drought tolerance:

  • Hairy  branches and leaves to trap moisture 
  • Symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal root fungi that provide water and nutrients in exchange for carbohydrates.

During the first two years after planting, you will need to water the young thyme every two to three weeks during the summer.  Allow the soil to dry out between watering. In case of a heat wave, water more frequently. Monitor your plants closely and look out for any signs of stress.

When watering, you need to do it abundantly, giving the soil a generous soak so the water can penetrate deeply into the soil to allow the roots to grow deeply. 

To preserve the soil´s moisture, you should add mulch around the root area of the Thyme (but not too close to the base). Wood chips and gravel are good options for mulching.

Other conditions

This plant can endure strong winds and maritime exposure.

It requires very little weeding due to its allelopathic properties.

How to prune Thymus camphoratus

This thyme needs to be pruned a couple of times during the year to remain vigorous and maintain its cushion form.

Ideally, you should give it a light prune in the spring and another in late summer after flowering. Be careful to always prune above the leaf, as the stems will not regrow if it is cut back too hard.

Thyme should be harvested just before flowering when it has the highest quantity of essential oil. 

How to propagate Thymus camphoratus

Thus Thyme can be propagated by seed, cuttings, layering and division

Propagation by seed

Thyme can be propagated by seed, but germination can be erratic.

Sow them in spring in a cold frame or the autumn in a greenhouse. Sow seed on the surface. Do not cover or barely cover as they need light to germinate. The seeds usually germinate in 2 to 4 weeks at around 15ºC (60ºF).

When the seedlings are strong enough to handle, you can plant them in individual pots and grow them in the greenhouse or cold frame. Gradually acclimatize them to outdoor conditions before planting in the final location after the last frosts in spring or in autumn.

When transplanting, pinch the tip of each stem to stimulate more branching to create a bushy form.

Propagation by cuttings

Thyme is easy to propagate from cuttings.

Semi-ripe cuttings can be taken from mid-summer to early autumn. Take a 5 to 8 cm (2.7 to 4 in) cutting with a heel or at a node from the current year’s growth. Roots will form within a few weeks. Semi-ripe cuttings can be placed in a cold frame over winter. 

Plant them out in late spring after the last expected frosts.

Basal cuttings of young shoots can be taken in the spring. Roots will form in a frame (to maintain moisture) during the summer, and the plant will be ready to plant in the final spot in autumn.

Propagation by layering

Thyme can also be propagated by layering the branches at any time during the year. Bend the stem down, hold it to the ground with a peg or rock, and cover it with soil.

Propagation by division

This plant can be divided in spring or autumn. 

The divisions with larger roots can be planted directly in their final position in the garden. 

The smaller divisions with less developed roots will first need to be potted and grown in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are strong enough to be planted in the garden.

Other Thymes you may also like

Sources

Sources of information used for this article

Internet

Article from Jardin Sec

Article from Flora Iberica

Books

Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Western Mediterranean, Second edition Paperback – 1 Oct. 2021 by Chris Thorogood