By Lori Freed
Myrica cerifera, Southern Wax Myrtle, is a large shrub or small tree that is often multi-trunked. It is native to the eastern half of Texas and has a broad range that spans most of the eastern United States and Central America. In drier climates, it produces a shorter shrub-like form. In wetlands and areas where water is plentiful, Southern Wax Myrtle is more treelike.
Southern Wax Myrtle is evergreen here in our area. It is a fast grower, sometimes reaching 20 feet and spreads from 10-15 feet. It is adaptable to different soil conditions although it prefers moist, acidic soils.
The tiny gray-blue globular fruit of the wax myrtle grows in masses and attracts many birds. It is home for many species including the Yellow-Rumped Warbler (formerly known as the Myrtle Warbler), Bobwhite Quail and Wild Turkey. Only a female plant will bear drupes, and a male plant is needed for pollination.
Also known as Candleberry, Southern Bayberry and Tallow Shrub, the waxy fruit of the Southern Wax Myrtle was used by early settlers to make candles. The leaves, stems and branches contain aromatic compounds that give wax myrtle its pleasant, woodsy scent. This scent repels certain insects. Traditionally, wax myrtle was planted around southern homes to repel fleas and used in sachets to keep cockroaches away. Settlers rubbed crushed leaves on their arms to repel mosquitoes.
Those aromatic compounds are also highly flammable, so avoid placing fire pits and grills near Southern Wax Myrtle.
Wax Myrtle was a very popular medicinal plant in the 19th century. It contains the chemical myricitrin, an antibiotic and fever reducer. Derived decoctions were used to treat numerous ailments, especially ulcers and dysentery. The tannins found in Wax Myrtle made an excellent astringent and were used to manufacture surgeon’s soap and shaving lathers.
Today, Southern Wax Myrtle is used to attract birds and repel biting insects, as privacy hedges, and as specimen trees in wetland and woodland gardens.
Sun: Full to Part Sun
Water: Water frequently until established. Requires constant moisture to establish roots. Once established, moderate water needs.
Soil: adaptable to most conditions but prefers moist, slightly acidic soil
Propagation: seeds, tip cuttings, or transplanting wild specimens