70 Myrica ceriferaCommon Names: southern bayberry, southern wax myrtle, wax myrtle Family: Myricaceae (wax myrtle Family)
This beautiful native tree grows in abundance at my place in Florida's panhandle. It is semi-evergreen where the winters are frosty but here it is evergreen. This popular plant has an attractive rounded form and is commonly used in landscaping as both a small tree or kept pruned as shrubs. Wax myrtle is uncommonly beautiful and has so many desirable attributes that it is my third most favorite native tree [after the southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and live oak (Quercus virginiana)]. The simple narrow leaves of the wax myrtle range from 1-5 in (2.5-13 cm) in length and about 0.5 in ( 1.3 cm) wide. They are gray-green to yellow-green and aromatic when crushed. If you look at the leaf surface under magnification you'll see that it is covered with tiny yellow glands. Wax myrtle sends up multiple trunks that can grow to as high as 25 ft (7.6 m) and will eventually form a colony if suckers are not removed. The flowers appear in late winter. The males are yellow-green catkins that grow up to 1 in (2.5 cm) long while the females are small and inconspicuous little bumps that grow into small blue berries, 1/8 in (0.3 cm) in diameter, that are held closely to the stem.
Myrica cerifera is found along the eastern coast of the United States from New Jersey to southern Florida and through the Gulf states to Texas. Often found on sandy sites along the coast, it also inhabits a wide variety of sites from swamps to upland woods.
CultureWax myrtle is a vigorous and easy to grow plant that succeeds under a wide range of conditions. It is also salt tolerant and can be used in seaside plantings. Light: Full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Wet swamps to xeric uplands. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 10. Propagation: Transplants and rooted cuttings. Chunks of root mass can be dug from a colony and will quickly send up new stems when replanted.
Wax myrtle can be used to create wildlife-friendly screens and hedges that provide food and shelter that you'll enjoy as much as the local critters. This plant can be pruned and even sheared to encourage dense foliage and to maintain formal shapes. Untrimmed the shrubs have interesting open natural form that allows for enjoyment of the attractive irregular shapes of multiple trunks (prune away the numerous suckers that are produced to keep your wax myrtle from forming a thicket). Create spectacular specimens by removing lower limbs and training into bonsai-like shapes.
Wax myrtle is the perfect plant for stream banks and lakesides that are prone to intermittent flooding and drought due to fluctuation of water levels. Wet or dry this talented plant is always happy and looking fine.
Wax myrtle is easy to find at garden centers and native plant shops within its range. It is also very easy to dig clumps from the wild (but not from public lands and only with property owners permission) for transplanting. Whenever possible choose female plants (and of course at least one male) as only these produce the waxy blue berries so beloved by birds.
Three features make the wax myrtle a popular ornamental: it has dense attractive evergreen foliage; it is a fast grower; and it responds well to pruning. Pioneers fashioned candles from the waxy berries and a close relative the northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), has similar berries that are the commercial source of wax for the bayberry candles we burn at Christmastime. The waxy berries are a high energy food source for birds in the winter, attracting and holding migratory warblers, among others. Like legumes, wax myrtle fixes atmospheric nitrogen and so is able to thrive in infertile soils.
The aromatic compounds present in wax myrtle foliage seems to repel insects, particularly fleas. It was traditionally planted around southern homes to help keep living spaces pestfree. A sprig of wax myrtle in a closet or drawer is reputed to keep cockroaches out! It's easy to see why the wax myrtle is my third favorite tree!
Jack Scheper 4/21/97 updated 1/5/03, 11/5/15