Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday's Trees- Wax Myrtle, Myrica cerifera

Yes, yes I know, you say this is a shrub.  Well, ok, shrub or small tree, either way, this is the plant we are profiling this week. 
I planted five of these small, evergreen trees last fall.  We interplanted them with Osmanthus fragrans.  The row of these two evergreens was planted to establish a barrier along the side of our property.  As spring rolled into our midst I noticed that some of these Wax myrtles had some flower buds.  Let the investigation begin!

Wax myrtle is an evergreen tree that can reach heights of 40 feet, but more often is 15 feet tall.   The width is 6- 12 feet.  The glossy olive green leaves are alternating along the branches and aromatic when crushed.   

It can be left to its open and airy structure or sheared to form a hedge row or a tree.  It sends up suckering growth from the  root collar.  It also spreads laterally by underground runners to form colonies.  This tree has the capability of fixing nitrogen because of root nodules with a symbiotic actinomycete.  Because of this Wax myrtle thrives in infertile soils.   
The Myrica cerifera, now called Morella cerifera (don't you hate it when botanical names change???) has both male and female flowers on different plants, making it dioecious.  Flowers that are missing either the carpel or the stamen are called unisexual flowers.  I found mine were showing a good number of males flowers.  See the photo on the left.  Both the male and female flowers form in the leaf axils.
I searched and searched on the five plants for some evidence of some female flowers.  Duke's web site has some great photos of both the male and female catkins (flowers).  I believe this is a photo of very immature female flowers on my ONE tree.

I believe this because here is evidence of last year's drupes, also pehaps showing some beginnings of this years female flowers.   I first learned of Waxmyrtles when I was on a field trip to Colonial Williamsburg.  These tiny drupes have a waxy coating (hence the name cerifera--in Latin means wax-bearing)  The colonists took these drupes and boiled off the wax and used the wax for candles--Bayberry candles.  Some places still use this technique to harvest wax for candles.
The aromatic leaves can be used as a insect repellent, especially fleas according to the  Floridata website.  They go so far as to say a sprig of this in your closet or drawer will keep cockroaches away.  The fruits are high energy drupes for the birds, especially in the winter.  The Myrica cerifera is also the host plant for the larva of the Red-banded Hairstreak and the Banded Hairstreak butterflies. Photos of these can be seen at the LBJ Wildflower website.

This tree is hardy from zones 7- 10 and is a native to the Southeast regions of the United States.   Plant is in full sun and give it the room to form a nice sized plant.  It can handle wet or dry conditions and grows in heavy soils.  The Forestry Service website has plenty more information on growth, habitat, reproduction and other ecological data.

Additional information sites-- VATech and NCState, both good descriptions of this plant.

I hope more than one of my five trees are females, I would like lots of drupes for the birds and other wildlife. 

Stay tuned next week for more Tuesday's trees.

©Copyright 2011 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.


  1. It's a very nice looking tree.

  2. The thing I like most about them is durability being able to take wet, drought, salt and varying light. I also love to see mature specimens limbed up to expose the handsome trunks.

  3. That is interesting about the wax being boiled off for candles.

  4. I'd call it a tree! :) We have a lot of mature wild specimens around here and their habit is definitely tree like, especially if they get a little shade. I love them ~ the silvery-brown bark, the fragrant leaves (very fragrant in spring), their toughness, and the fact that they are always full of Yellow-Rumped Warblers in winter.

  5. A pretty tree/shrub. Thanks, I learned something today about the wax statement.

  6. Wax myrtles have such a great history. Thanks for promoting them!

    They're successional, I think, so don't like shady spots over the long haul, but they're good to plant, nevertheless.


  7. I didn't know that about the candles. Very interesting facts here. Thanks

  8. Very nice small tree Janet. :) Plus I love that you intermingled it with the Osmanthus. That is one plant that I need to find a place for in my own yard.

  9. tina- thanks, works for me. ;-)

    Les- I read the salt tolerant part and was happy I didn't have to worry about that now.

    Donna- These drupes are really small, it takes a lot to make enough wax for a candle. A precious resource.

    Sweetbay- thanks!! I love the fragrance of the leaves and happy that the birds like it so much.

    Lola- Glad you learned something too.

    Lisa- Happy to!

    Rosey- So many drupes to make one candle. The candles weren't lit unless really needed.

    Racquel- I bet you could find a place for an Osmanthus fragrans...just remember how big they were at the Botanical Garden?

  10. This sounds like a terrific tree!


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