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Shrubs are short woody plants without a single trunk. Myrtle shrub refers to several different and unrelated plants that either are shrubs or have a shrub version. One is a group of evergreen shrubs from the genus Myrtus, those plants that might be called “Myrtle proper.” A second is the Crape myrtle, a deciduous tree or, in its dwarf version, shrub of the genus Lagerstroemia. The third type of myrtle shrub is Wax myrtle, shrubs from the genus Myrica.
The first type of myrtle shrub, from the genus Myrtle, is originally from the Mediterranean. It grows to a height of 5–6 feet (1.5–1.8 m) with a diameter of 4–5 feet (1.2–1.5 m). This shrub produces fragrant white flowers and dark purple berries, and it can be grown in full sun or partial shade. This type of myrtle shrub can be grown as a container plant, used for formal hedges, be employed in foundation planting, or trimmed into topiary shapes.
The Crape myrtle or crapemyrtle is sometimes misspelled as the “Crepe” myrtle. This is understandable because its common name apparently comes from the resemblance of its crinkly flower petals to the material named crepe. Nevertheless, the first reference to the plant and the most preferred is the spelling with the letter a.
Most species of Crape myrtle are native to Asia, but the common Crape myrtle was brought to the southern United States in 1747. Through extensive planting, it has become one of the most widely-grown flowering plants in the South, earning the nickname “the lilac of the South.” In 1997, Texas chose the Crape myrtle for its state shrub. Since some Crape myrtle varieties can grow to a height of 40 feet (12 m), it is important to choose a dwarf variety if a myrtle shrub, rather than a tree, is wanted.
The Wax myrtle shrub, also written wax-myrtle, is also called “Common Wax-myrtle” or “Southern Bayberry.” In actuality, Southern Bayberry is a different species of the same genus, distinguished by having broader leaves. The leaves of the Wax myrtle are somewhat similar to those of the “Myrtle proper.” The town of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is named for the Wax myrtle, as is the Myrtle Warbler.
The Wax myrtle is native to the United States. Beginning in Colonial times, the wax-covered berries were boiled and the wax used for candle-making. The plant's crushed leaves are used as insect repellent.