Morella cerifera

Common Name: wax myrtle 
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Myricaceae
Native Range: North America, Central America, Caribbean
Zone: 7 to 10
Height: 10.00 to 15.00 feet
Spread: 8.00 to 10.00 feet
Bloom Time: February to March
Bloom Description: Drab yellow-green male flowers
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Hedge
Flower: Fragrant, Insignificant
Leaf: Fragrant, Evergreen
Attracts: Birds, Butterflies
Fruit: Showy
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Rabbit, Deer, Drought, Erosion, Wet Soil

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 7-10 where it is easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. Best initially grown with constant moisture, but once established in the landscape it will grow in a wide range of soil conditions ranging from wet swampy areas to dry xeric uplands. This shrub is also tolerant of high winds and salt spray, and may be grown in seaside areas. Fixes atmospheric nitrogen which helps it survive in poor soils. Shrubs tend to sucker, sometimes forming sizable colonies in optimum growing conditions. This shrub is similar to northern bayberry (M. pennsylvanica), but is by contrast a southern heat-loving evergreen species.

This species is dioecious (male and female flowers borne in catkins on separate plants). Female plants are preferred in the landscape because they produce the attractive and sometimes useful fruit. At least one male plant is needed to facilitate pollination of the female flowers.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Morella cerifera, commonly known as southern wax myrtle or southern bayberry, is a large, irregularly-shaped, dense-branching, nitrogen-fixing, suckering, fast-growing, evergreen shrub (semi-evergreen in colder northern parts of the growing area) that typically grows to 10-15’ tall and 8-10’ wide, but occasionally reaches a tree-like height of 20’ tall or more. It is native to the southeastern U.S. from New Jersey to Florida through the Gulf States to Oklahoma and Texas and further south into Mexico and Central America. It is typically found in a variety of habitats including wetlands, river margins, sand dunes, pine barrens, hillsides, and upland forests.

The fruits of this species have been used for many years to make bayberry candles, soaps and sealing wax.

Glossy, aromatic, oblanceolate, olive green leaves (to 3-5” long) are dotted with tiny yellow resin glands. Leaves, particularly the new growth, emit the distinctive bayberry candle fragrance when crushed. Flowers are fragrant but non-showy, with only the flowers on male plants (catkins to 1” long) displaying some color (a drab yellowish-green). Flowers bloom in late winter to early spring. Pollinated female flowers are followed by small attractive clusters of tiny, globose, blue-gray fruits which mature in late summer to fall, with persistence through winter. Each fruit is surrounded by an aromatic waxy substance.

Birds eat the fruits in fall and winter, thus helping the plants to naturalize by disbursing the seed.

These shrubs are considered to be potential fire hazards in some areas because the leaves, stems and branches contain flammable aromatic compounds.

Myrica cerifera is a synonym.

Specific epithet means wax-bearing.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Leaf browning typically occurs in cold winters. Watch for leaf anthracnose and leaf mosaic.

Garden Uses

Garden ornamental with a history of use for medicinal purposes and candlemaking. This is a versatile shrub that can be used in woodland gardens or shrub borders, as a screen or informal hedge, in wet or shady sites, or on a bank for erosion control. Salt tolerance makes it appropriate for locations near roads that are salted in winter. Interesting plant for grouping in the corner of a large herb garden. Good selection for stream or pond margins where periodic flooding or drought may occur. Also attractive as a small tree with lower limbs removed.