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Myrica pensylvanica

Previously known as:

  • Morella pensylvanica
Phonetic Spelling
mi-RI-ka pen-sil-VAH-ni-ka
Description

The northern bayberry is a dense, rounded, deciduous shrub that grows 6 to 8 feet tall. It may also be semi-evergreen in warm southern winter climates The leaves are grayish-green to dark green, leathery, and glossy, and when crushed they are very aromatic. The undersides of the leaves have yellow resin glands. The flowers are yellowish-green catkins that are found on separate male and female plants and are not particularly showy. The female flowers, if pollinated, produce a small grayish-white drupe in late summer that persists until April. The drupes have a scented waxy coating that is used to make candles, soap, and sealing wax.

This shrub is native to North America and is found in eastern Canada and the eastern United States from Newfoundland to North Carolina. It is usually found in colonies or thickets bordering woods In North Carolina this shrub is restricted to the coastal sand dunes in Dare and Currituck Counties. Further north this shrub is found inland in Ontario. Another coastal bayberry, Myrica heterophylla, is very similar but has smaller fruits and is found from New Jersey to Louisiana.

The genus, Myrica, originates from the Greek name myrike for tamarisk. The specific epithet, pensylvanica, means "of Pennsylvania." It is a member of the Myricaceae family.

The northern bayberry prefers to grow in full sun, and moist, peat, or sandy, acidic soils. It is adaptable and tolerates different soil conditions. This shrub has drought, erosion, high winds, salt spray, poor soils, and wet site tolerance. In optimum conditions, this shrub suckers easily and forms colonies.

This plant needs at least one male per grouping for pollination. It also has a symbiotic relationship with actinobacterium which fixes atmospheric nitrogen.  

The northern bayberry is best planted in groups or mass plantings as a border, screen, or hedge. It may be used in woodland gardens or on slopes/banks to help control erosion. It may also be used along the highways that require salting during the winter months since the shrub is salt spray tolerant. It is a very versatile shrub.

Seasons of Interest:

Bloom: Spring    Foliage: Spring and Summer          Fruits: Late Summer to Spring

Quick ID Hints:

  • deciduous to semi-evergreen shrub, 4 to 8 feet tall, dense, rounded
  • obovate to oblong grayish-green to dark green leaves with a fragrance of bay when crushed
  • non-showy male and female catkins on separate shrubs
  • fragrant, small, grayish-white drupes with a waxing coating

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  The northern bayberry has no serious insect or disease problems.

Compare this Plant to M. cerifera, M. heterophylla

VIDEO created by Grant L. Thompson for “Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines for Landscaping” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • Bobbee (trademark)
    female cultivar
  • 'Morton'
    female cultivar
  • 'Morton Male'
    male cultivar
Bobbee (trademark), 'Morton', 'Morton Male'
Tags:
#fragrant#deciduous#drought tolerant#fragrant leaves#native shrub#salt tolerant#waxy#winter interest#mass planting#erosion control#showy fruits#food source wildlife#NC native#rounded#larval host plant#wet soils tolerant#bird friendly#dry soils intolerant#woodland garden#dry shade#dense growth#fruits late summer#landscape plant sleuths course#border
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • Bobbee (trademark)
    female cultivar
  • 'Morton'
    female cultivar
  • 'Morton Male'
    male cultivar
Bobbee (trademark), 'Morton', 'Morton Male'
Tags:
#fragrant#deciduous#drought tolerant#fragrant leaves#native shrub#salt tolerant#waxy#winter interest#mass planting#erosion control#showy fruits#food source wildlife#NC native#rounded#larval host plant#wet soils tolerant#bird friendly#dry soils intolerant#woodland garden#dry shade#dense growth#fruits late summer#landscape plant sleuths course#border
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Myrica
    Species:
    pensylvanica
    Family:
    Myricaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Wax is used to make bayberry candles, soaps, and sealing wax.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Eastern Canada to Eastern U.S.A
    Distribution:
    United States: AL, CT, DC, DE, MA, MD, ME, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VA, and VT; Canada: New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec. Introduced: Great Britain and the Netherlands
    Wildlife Value:
    Attracts butterflies and is a larval host to the Columbia silkmoth. The fruits are attractive to birds and small mammals. This plant is particularly resistant to damage by deer
    Play Value:
    Easy to Grow
    Wildlife Food Source
    Dimensions:
    Height: 6 ft. 0 in. - 8 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 5 ft. 0 in. - 10 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Shrub
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Semi-evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Erect
    Rounded
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    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)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Occasionally Dry
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4b, 4a, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Gray/Silver
    White
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Long-lasting
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Spring
    Winter
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The female plants produce fruits if they are pollinated. The fruits are small, grayish-white, waxy-coated, round drupe that covers the stems. They appear in late summer and persist until April. The waxy coating on the fruit is aromatic. This waxy substance is used to make bayberry candles, soaps, and sealing wax. Birds are attracted to fruits.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Catkin
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are non-showy, catkins, and bloom in May. This shrub is dioecious and requires male and female plants to produce flowers and fruits. The male flower is a drab yellowish-green.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Semi-evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leathery
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Insignificant
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Oblong
    Obovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are alternate, obovate to oblong, measure 1.5 to 4 inches long and 0.5 to 1.5 inches wide, and are lustrous. They are grayish-green somewhat pubescent above, and they have yellowish-green resin glands on the undersides of the leaves. In the summer, the leaves are dark green. When the leaves are crushed, they are aromatic. They have no significant fall color.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Brown
    Light Gray
    Red/Burgundy
    Bark Description:
    The bark is reddish-brown and ages to gray.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gray/Silver
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    Yes
    Stem Description:
    The twig color is brown and gray.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Naturalized Area
    Slope/Bank
    Landscape Theme:
    Shade Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Hedge
    Mass Planting
    Screen/Privacy
    Attracts:
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Erosion
    Poor Soil
    Salt
    Wet Soil