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What is Myrica?

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  • Written By: Deborah Walker
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 01 July 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Myrica is a genus of 35-50 different species of shrubs and trees in the wax myrtle, or Myricaceae family. Plants in this genus are native to North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The plant is commonly known as bayberry, bay-rum tree, candleberry, sweet gale, and wax myrtle. These plants can grow in a variety of different soil conditions. Gardeners, artisans, and others use Myrica in traditional medicine, landscaping, and candlemaking.

Most plants in this genus are dioecious, with male and female reproductive organs known as catkins, or thin, cylinder-shaped flower clusters. In late winter, males produce yellow-green flowers, and females bear green flowers. In early spring and summer, the female flowers turn to small, 1/8 inch (0.3 cm), bluish-gray waxy berries.

Its oblong, pointed leaves grow to a length between 1.5-4 inches (3.81-10.16 cm). In summer, the foliage is a glossy green, and has a leathery texture. During the fall, the leaves gradually turn from green to bronze. Crushed leaves are quite aromatic.

These plants thrive in soils with neutral or acidic pH levels. They prefer full sun with partial afternoon shade and will grow in wet swamps or bogs, as well as in xeric uplands, where the soil is extremely thin and dry. It also tolerates salty conditions, which makes plants in this genus a good choice for landscaping near the seashore. Plants are most vigorous in the North American U.S. Department of Agriculture zones seven through ten.

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The height of a Myrica tree or shrub varies depending on soil conditions and species. Plant heights typically range between 5 and 10 feet (1.5-3 m) tall. Some species, such as Myrica cerifera have been known to grow to a height of 25 feet (7.62 m). Other species, grown in nutrient-poor soil, have been as short as 12 inches (0.30 m) tall.

Propagation usually occurs in one of three ways. Mature plants can send out multiple suckers that develop into new plants. Seeds can be dispersed by the wind or by deliberate human planting. The root ball may be divided and part of it planted in a new location.

Plants in this genus are susceptible to thrips, white flies, and spider mites, as well as diseases such as limb and trunk rot. The insect problems can be treated with insecticides meant for use on these plants. Predator bugs may also help to control unwanted insects.

Myrica has been used in traditional medicine in cases of jaundice and diarrhea for example. The plants have astringent and stimulant properties. High doses may induce vomiting, however. When combined with elm, the plants may encourage healing of internal and external ulcers.

Myrica can be used in landscaping to create wildlife-friendly hedges, as a plant situated to hide the foundations of buildings, and on sites where most other plants will not grow. Plants have also been used in soil stabilization projects. Wax from the berries is used to make bayberry candles. In addition, the bark may be used to tan leather, and dye wool or fabrics.

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