Waxmyrtle, an Overlooked Landscape Shrub
Myrica cerifera Southern Waxmyrtle, Bayberry is a large shrub to small tree that is now native to much of Florida and much of the Southeastern United States. It was introduced to Europeans in the 1700s and is considered native by many botanical authorities. Sources disagree to the validity of its native status. It is usually found as an understory plant in lightly forested areas, swamps, brackish areas, as well as around old home sites.
It was planted widely in the 18th,19th and early 20th century as a plant for medicinal and industrial purposes. Four pounds of its berries will yield one pound of wax for candle making. When processed, this wax was also used in surgeon’s soap, shaving lather, and sealing wax. Fermented leaves were used to produce a substance which was said to treat fever, stomach aches, and headaches.
Southern Waxmyrtle can reach up to 25 feet but is best maintained as a 10-20 foot multi-trunked shrub or small tree. It can also be trained as a smaller hedge and several dwarf form exist. Landscapes are enhanced by the shrubs’ olive green foliage, leaf aroma, open, rounded form and waxy blue-green berries. Wildlife enjoy the berries as a food source as well. They can provide dappled shade for outdoor entertainment spaces or front entrances.
Another benefit of Waxmyrtle is that it can be used in tough-to-landscape roadside and coastal areas since it is both pollution and salt tolerant and will cease to require irrigation once it is established. ‘Pumila’ is a dwarf cultivar suitable to small spaces.
Waxmyrtle is susceptible to few pests and diseases but can occasionally be attacked by webworms, mites and caterpillars. These can be controlled by pruning out of infested areas, forceful applications of water or Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis for caterpillar). It is also occasionally susceptible to canker on old branches and Fusarium wilt in central and south Florida. It is also considered a weed in pasture situations.