Born in the U.S.A.: Myrica cerifera, Wax Myrtle


What could be more all-American than native plants? This is the last of our Independence Day posts, in which we've featured species with red, white, or blue flowers or fruit. We hope you've enjoyed it!


Figure 1. Male flowers of Myrica cerifera.
Photo credit: Paul Redfearn, Jr.

By Veronica Gajownik

This post is one of a series from professor Nisse Goldberg's Botany students at Jacksonville University.

Classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Fagales
Family: Myricaceae
Genus: Myrica
Specific epithet: cerifera

Figure 2. Developing fruits of M. cerifera.
Photo credit: Dennis Girard.
Description
Myrica cerifera is commonly known as the southern wax myrtle or southern bayberry. It grows throughout Florida, from Key West through the panhandle, where it thrives in sandy areas, upland woods and swamps. It is also found on both the Atlantic and Gulf coast, a testament to its tolerance of salty conditions.

Its leaves are relatively narrow (Figure 1) and are composed of yellow tiny glands. They can be either gray-green or yellow-green, depending on the time of the year. Female and male flowers appear in late winter. Male flowers grow to about 1 inch and arranged in catkins (Figure 1), while female flowers are smaller and will produce blue berries (Figure 2). The waxy coating on these berries is used for making bayberry candles.

Wax myrtle is fast growing and can be used as a shrub or trained into a small tree. Either way, it's a winner for any garden because of its beautiful color and fruit, which attracts migrating birds. Interested in planting one in your landscape? Please check with the Florida Association of Native Nurseries to see who sells wax myrtle near you.

Fun Facts
  • It is said that if you put a twig from this plant in a drawer, it will draw out the cockroaches, and that it is also a good flea repellant.
  • The genus name Myrica means ‘fragrance’ in Greek. You will easily understand why when you crush its leaves and inhale its aromatic scent.
References

Image Sources
Figure 1. http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Photo.aspx?id=9668
Figure 2. http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Photo.aspx?id=9666

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