Plant DetailShow Menu

Pacific Wax Myrtle Myrica californica

Previously known as:

  • Morella californica
Phonetic Spelling
mi-RI-ka kal-i-FORN-i-ka
Description

Pacific wax myrtle is an ornamental broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree in the Myricaceae (myrtle) family.  It is native to the Pacific Coast and coastal valleys of North America from Vancouver Island down to southern California. It grows best near the coast, close to streams, or on dunes. The origin of the genus name, Myrica, is from the Greek name Tamarix. The species name, californica, means "of California." 

With its dense  upright habit and glossy leaves it grows to a height and width of 10 to 30 feet. The leaves are about 4 inches long, narrow, and glossy green with black dots. The fruits appear in the fall and are small waxy purple to black drupes that attract birds. The tiny flowers appear in the spring and are insignificant. 

The Pacific wax myrtle prefers full sun to partial shade and even grows in the elusive dry shade. The roots of the plant have nodules that contain nitrogen-fixing microorganisms; therefore, the shrub is poor soil tolerant. It may be grown in sandy, loamy, or clay soils with an acid or neutral pH.  The plant tolerates pruning and shearing. The shrub may be propagated by seeds, cuttings, or layering. Layering is the fastest method. 

The Pacific Wax Myrtle is said to be the best native shrub for screening on the Pacific Coast. It may be trimmed as a hedge. This shrub is ideal for coastal planting because it is salt spray tolerant as well as poor soil tolerant. It will also provide bank stabilization. This ornamental shrub with showy berries and glossy green foliage makes an attractive plant as a specimen, informal screen, or background interest in the garden.

Seasons of Interest:

Foliage: Year-round    Fruits: Fall

Quick ID Hints:

  • dense, bushy, broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree, 10 to 30 feet tall and wide
  • the leaves are glossy, dark green upper surface, paler green undersides with black dots, 4-inches long, and lanceolate
  • insignificant yellow-greenish flowers in the spring
  • small warty or bumpy drupes that are initially green that turn purple to black with a white waxy coating and grow in small, tight clusters

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: The Pacific wax myrtle has no serious insects or disease issues. It may be susceptible to scales. thrips, spider mites, and whiteflies. Potential diseases include leaf spots, blight anthracnose, limb rot, or trunk rot. 

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#evergreen#small tree#shrub#broadleaf evergreen#salt spray tolerant#deer resistant#fruits fall#screening#black fruits#flowers late spring#evergreen shrub#poor soils tolerant#purple fruits#bird friendly#dry soils intolerant#ornamental tree#dry shade#coastal plant#dense growth#privacy screen#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#evergreen#small tree#shrub#broadleaf evergreen#salt spray tolerant#deer resistant#fruits fall#screening#black fruits#flowers late spring#evergreen shrub#poor soils tolerant#purple fruits#bird friendly#dry soils intolerant#ornamental tree#dry shade#coastal plant#dense growth#privacy screen#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Myrica
    Species:
    californica
    Family:
    Myricaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Layering
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southwestern Canada to Western California
    Distribution:
    Native: British Columbia, California, Oregon, and Washington
    Wildlife Value:
    The fruit attracts many birds such as kingbirds, mockingbirds, flickers, and woodpeckers. They also host butterflies and moths.
    Play Value:
    Easy to Grow
    Screening
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Dimensions:
    Height: 10 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 10 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Erect
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    12-24 feet
    24-60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    7b, 7a, 8b, 8a, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Black
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    White
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruits are small, warty, round, and initially green drupes that transition from purple to black with a white waxy coating. They are 1/16-inch in diameter and appear in small, tight clusters. Each drupe contains one seed. The drupes are present from September to October. Birds are attracted to the fruits.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Catkin
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    Inconspicuous yellowish-green flowers bloom from May to June. There are separate male and female catkins that appear on the leaf axils. They measure 0.5 to 1-inch long.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Smooth
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Long-lasting
    Showy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Lanceolate
    Leaf Margin:
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    4 inches long, 0.5 to 0.75 inches wide, and lanceolate. In the spring, the leaves are a smooth and shiny green but during the summer they are a darker green. The undersides of the leaves are a lighter green and have tiny black spots. The margins are toothed. Clusters of the leaves are found at the ends of the branches.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Brown
    Light Gray
    White
    Surface/Attachment:
    Patchy
    Bark Description:
    The bark is thin and gray to brown. The bark often has white patches.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    Young stems are dark green, hairy, and slightly ridged. Older stems are brown to gray and rounded.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Slope/Bank
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Cottage Garden
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Shade Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Small Tree
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Poor Soil
    Salt