Test Your Knowledge - January

A Test Your Knowledge Unknown
Closeup of wax myrtle berries. Individual berries are approximately 1/8" wide.
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Yes. These are wax myrtle berries!

When looked at closely, tiny beads of wax can be seen on the berries of wax myrtle (Morella cerifera syn. Myrica cerifera). Wax myrtle, also known as Southern bayberry and candleberry, is a close relative of the Northern bayberry (Morella pensylvanica syn. Myrica pensylvanica). Colonists used the berries of both species to make highly desirable candles that burned clean, didn’t melt easily and produced a pleasant aromatic scent, especially compared to the common tallow candles. Today, the scent of bayberry candles is still prized, and the candles are often given as holiday gifts.

Wax for candle making was obtained by boiling the tiny berries in water, cooling, and then skimming off the solidified wax. Numerous berries were required, as Northern bayberry fruit are under ¼” wide, and wax myrtle berries only half as large. Fortunately for colonists desiring wax myrtle candles, the berries are produced in great profusion on plants native along the entire Eastern seaboard, with Northern bayberry growing from Newfoundland to North Carolina, and wax myrtle from New Jersey to Florida and along the Gulf Coast to Texas.

A wax myrtle branch with berries
A wax myrtle branch with berries
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Nowadays, wax myrtle is more valued for its ornamental characteristics. It is a sturdy and adaptable native shrub. It will tolerate poor soil, drought, sand, sun and salt spray, making it an ideal beach plant. It also grows well in the upstate, even in heavy clay soil, so long as drainage is good. While often planted as a sheared or natural hedge or screen, individual plants can be grown and limbed up to form graceful small trees.

Wax myrtle berries are retained and provide interest throughout the winter. They attract certain birds, particularly warblers. Along with all its other features, wax myrtle also has the sweet bayberry-candle scent in both berries and leaves.

For more information on growing wax myrtle in your own yard, see HGIC 1076, Wax Myrtle.

Karen Russ
Home & Garden Information Center

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