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Myrica cerifera

Common Name(s):
Southern waxmyrtle, Waxmyrtle
Native Plants, Shrubs

Morella cerifera, commonly known as southern wax myrtle or southern bayberry, is a large, irregularly-shaped, dense-branching, nitrogen-fixing, suckering, fast-growing, evergreen shrub (semi-evergreen in colder northern parts of the growing area) that typically grows to 10-15’ tall and 8-10’ wide, but occasionally reaches a tree-like height of 20’ tall or more. It is native to the southeastern U.S. from New Jersey to Florida through the Gulf States to Oklahoma and Texas and further south into Mexico and Central America. It is typically found in a variety of habitats including wetlands, river margins, sand dunes, pine barrens, hillsides, and upland forests.

This plant is highly salt tolerant.

The fruits of this species have been used for many years to make bayberry candles, soaps and sealing wax.

These shrubs are considered to be potential fire hazards in some areas because the leaves, stems and branches contain flammable aromatic compounds.

Regions:  Piedmont, Coastal Plains

Seasons of Interest: 

  Leaf:                     Blooms:  Early spring            Nut/Fruit/Seed:  Fall

Wildlife Value:   The Waxmyrtle is highly resistant to damage from deer.  It provides excellent winter and extreme weather cover.  It is a host plant for the Red-Banded Hairstreak butterfly. The fruits are eaten by birds, expecially yellow-rumped warbler (which are very efficient at digesting the waxy fruits) in the fall and winter.

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems: Leaf browning typically occurs in cold winters. Watch for leaf anthracnose and leaf mosaic.


Compare this Plant to: M. heterophyllaM. pensylvanica

10-15 ft.
The leaves of the Waxmyrtle are alternate, simple, glossy, aromatic, oblanceolate, olive green leaves (to 3-5” long) which are are dotted with tiny yellow resin glands. The leaves, particularly the new growth, emit the distinctive bayberry candle fragrance when crushed.
The flowers of the Waxmyrtle are fragrant but non-showy, with only the flowers on male plants (catkins to 1” long) displaying some color (a drab yellowish-green). The flowers bloom in late winter to early spring. Pollinated female flowers are followed by small attractive clusters of tiny, globose, blue-gray fruits which mature in late summer to fall, with persistence through winter. Each fruit is surrounded by an aromatic waxy substance. Birds eat the fruits in fall and winter, thus helping the plants to naturalize by disbursing the seed.
The Waxmyrtle is winter hardy to USDA Zones 7-10 where it is easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. It does best when initially grown with constant moisture, but once established in the landscape it will grow in a wide range of soil conditions ranging from wet swampy areas to dry xeric uplands. This shrub is also tolerant of high winds and salt spray, and may be grown in seaside areas. It fixes atmospheric nitrogen which helps it survive in poor soils. Shrubs tend to sucker, sometimes forming sizable colonies in optimum growing conditions. This shrub is similar to northern bayberry (M. pennsylvanica), but is by contrast a southern heat-loving evergreen species.
Fine to medium
Irregular, rounded dense shrub
Sun to partial shade
8-10 ft.
coastal, wet soil, deciduous, wet sites, drought, winter interest, birds, hedge, fragrant, fragrant leaves, wet, salt tolerant, wildlife, deer resistant, showy

NCCES plant id: 1674

Myrica cerifera Leaves
Forest and Kim Starr, CC BY - 4.0
Myrica cerifera Fruit
mystuart, CC BY-NC-ND - 4.0
Myrica cerifera Myrica cerifera
mwms1916, CC BY-NC-ND - 2.0