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A bayberry bush is a large shrub known for its fragrant berries, used to make bayberry scented products such as candles. The scientific name for the plant is Myrica pensylvanica, a species in the Myricaceae, or bayberry, family, also known as the wax cedar family. A North American native, the bayberry bush can be found in the eastern part of that continent from Newfoundland, Canada south to North Carolina and west as far as Ohio and Ontario. It also grows on the islands off the coast of Canada.
If left to grow naturally the bayberry bush is often wider than it is tall. Mature specimens are usually between 7 and 10 feet (about 2 and 3 m) high but may grow as tall as 15 feet (about 4.6 m.) It is a perennial and can be pruned into a small tree or sheared as a hedge if desired. When it grows near the shore or on poor soil its maximum height may be 5 feet (about 1.5 m) or less.
The leave of the bayberry bush are a dark glossy green and give off the distinctive bayberry scent if crushed. Bayberry is tolerant of a wide range of soil types including those that are sandy, poorly drained, and infertile. It is able to grow in areas subject to salt spray from the ocean and takes seasonal flooding well. Mature plants usually have moderate drought tolerance. It typically grows best in full sun.
Bayberry bush flowers are small and not easily seen, as they grow on below the leaves at the end of the branches. They are followed by more noticeable round berries in shades of gray and white. The berries, which grow in clusters, have a waxy coating and are noticeably aromatic.
Many birds in the region where the bayberry bush grows rely on the berries as a major part of their winter diet. Chickadees, catbirds and bluebirds are among the species that eat bayberries. The berries are also the source of the fragrance used in bayberry products.
Bayberry bushes are often planted in gardens and landscapes in areas with suitable climates. The plants can thrive where temperatures fall as low as -30 degrees F (-34.44 C) but need at least 140 frost-free days each year. In areas with natural rainfall below 40 to 45 inches (about 102 to 115 cm) per year, a bayberry bush will require supplemental watering to thrive.