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Wax myrtle (Morella corifera) is a perennial shrub or small tree native to the United States, but it also grows in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Also called bayberry, candleberry, and waxberry, it has a waxy covering on the fruit that can be extracted to make scented candles. The plant tolerates various soils, including sand, clay, and salt, making it a hardy choice for many areas.
In residential areas, wax myrtle makes an ideal privacy shrub or ornamental tree if pruned regularly. This evergreen produces dense foliage with a compact shape when planted in groups. Regular and dwarf varieties are available, which can be propagated by seeds or cuttings.
Greenish-yellow leaves and flowers from the myrtle tree release a fragrant scent when crushed or crumbled. Oil in the lacy leaves also makes the plant highly flammable, along with a waxy covering on berries. The bark is thin and smooth, ranging from green to gray in color.
Fruit of the wax myrtle grows in clusters of green berries covered with a light blue wax, appearing on female plants. Early Americans boiled the fruit to remove the wax, which was used to make fragrant candles. The berries ripen in the fall and last until spring, providing a food source for wildlife when other plants become dormant.
Deer, quail, wild turkeys, ducks, and other birds depend on the fiber and fat from wax myrtle berries for nutrients during winter. Some birds nest in branches of the myrtle tree to hide from predators. Deer also use foliage as a shield during winter months.
This tree is popular in wetland restoration projects because it tolerates brackish water near swamps. It also thrives in acidic or alkaline soil, and flourishes in clay, deep sand, and salty earth. Wax myrtle tolerates heat and areas prone to flooding, along with full sun or partial shade. It resists insect damage and most diseases, except for leaf blight, which began infecting plants in parts of the U.S. in 2007.
Fungal spores carried by wind might attack leaves, causing them to turn brown and drop off. The disease typically starts at the bottom of the plant and spreads upward during fall and winter. Myrtles infected with leaf blight might produce new leaves in a year or two if gardeners clean up fallen leaves and prune away diseased sections of the plant.
A male and a female tree are necessary to produce fruit via pollination. To propagate from seeds, the wax should be left on until ready to plant. Some gardeners use a lye and water solution to remove the waxy coating. Cuttings require ample water until new plants are established. Once rooted, myrtle typically grows quickly.