Wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) or southern bayberry is a large shrub or small tree that is a dominant species in our southern forest understory. Its leaves are evergreen and fragrant when crushed. It can grow to about 20 feet tall, but can be pruned and maintained at lower heights.
This plant produces small, waxy berries that are especially important as food for migratory birds, and a sweet sap that attracts a medium-sized native woodpecker, the yellow-bellied sapsucker. The berries of wax myrtles were also used by early settlers to make bayberry candles. When grown on the banks of lagoons or other water bodies, their root systems can hold soil well and minimize soil erosion, and their branches provide important over-water nesting habitat for our wading birds, such as egrets and herons. Having their nests over water keeps the young birds safer, as it limits the number of predators that can reach them.
Wax myrtle is a great plant to use in your landscape, as it is drought and deer tolerant and disease resistant. It also can grow in a wide variety of environmental conditions (dry, moist, salty, part shade), but thrives best in full sun. As with all plants, over pruning can be damaging, since leaves make the energy for the plant to use to survive, and too few leaves mean little available energy. If you want berries for the birds, be sure to specify both female and male plants when you purchase them, as the sexes are on separate plants.
Native & Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas & Georgia: www.namethatplant.net/