The green links below add additional plants to the comparison table. Blue links lead to other Web sites.
enable glossary links

southern bayberry, southern wax-myrtle

bog myrtle, bois-sent-bon, meadow-fern, myrique baumier, sweet gale

Habit Shrubs or small trees, evergreen, often forming large, rhizomatous colonies of much-branched specimens, to 14 m. Branchlets reddish brown, densely gland-dotted when young, otherwise glabrous to densely pilose, eventually glabrate; glands yellow. Shrubs, deciduous, much branched, to 1.5(-2) m. Branchlets purple-black, gland-dotted, glands brownish yellow.

blade aromatic when crushed, linear-oblanceolate to obovate, (1.1-)2-10.5(-13.3) × 0.4-3.3 cm, leathery, base cuneate to attenuate, margins entire or coarsely serrate beyond middle, apex acute to slightly rounded;

surfaces abaxially pale yellow-green, glabrous except for pilose midrib, adaxially dark green, glabrous to pilose, both surfaces densely glandular;

glands yellow to orange.

blade oblanceolate to obovate, 1.5-6.5 × 0.5-1.5 cm, ± leathery, base cuneate, margins usually minutely serrate, with 1-4 pairs of teeth usually restricted to distal 1/3 of blade, occasionally entire throughout, apex rounded or obtuse;

surfaces abaxially pale green, glabrous to densely pilose, adaxially dark green, glabrous to pilose, both surfaces variously gland-dotted;

glands bright yellow to orange.


staminate 0.4-1.9 cm; pistillate 0.3-1.5 cm.

staminate ca. 1-1.5 cm; pistillate to 1.5 cm.


unisexual, staminate and pistillate on different plants.

unisexual, staminate and pistillate mostly on different plants, occasionally on same plants.

Staminate flowers

bract of flower shorter than staminal column, margins opaque, densely ciliate, abaxially densely gland-dotted;

stamens mostly 3-4.

bract of each flower longer than stamens, stamens mostly 3-5.

Pistillate flowers

bracteoles persistent in fruit, 4, not accrescent or adnate to fruit wall, margins ciliate, abaxially densely gland-dotted;

ovary glandular, especially at apex near style base.

bracteoles 2, accrescent and adnate to base of fruit wall, laterally compressed, glabrous but gland-dotted;

ovary glabrous.


globose-ellipsoid, 2-3.5(-4) mm;

fruit wall glabrous or sparsely glandular when young, obscured by enlarged protuberances and thick coat of blue-white wax.

ovoid, flattened, 2.5-3 mm;

fruit wall smooth (no protuberances), without waxy deposit, with glandular deposit, enclosed by spongy bracteoles.


= ca. 96.

Myrica cerifera

Myrica gale

Phenology Flowering mid winter–spring, fruiting summer–fall. Flowering spring–early summer, fruiting in summer.
Habitat Bogs, edges of marshes, ponds, creeks, and swamps, pine forests, mixed deciduous forests, pine barrens, coastal sand dunes, open fields, sandy hillsides Coastal and inland swamps, bogs, borders of lakes, ponds, and streams
Elevation 0-450 m (0-1500 ft) 0-670 m (0-2200 ft)
from FNA
AL; AR; DE; FL; GA; LA; MD; MS; NC; NJ; OK; SC; TX; VA; Mexico; Central America; West Indies; Bermuda
[WildflowerSearch map]
from FNA
AK; CT; MA; ME; MI; MN; NC; NH; NJ; NY; OR; PA; RI; VT; WA; WI; AB; BC; MB; NB; NF; NS; NT; ON; PE; QC; SK; YT; SPM; Eurasia
[WildflowerSearch map]
[BONAP county map]

Myrica cerifera is an extremely variable species with respect to habitat and corresponding habit/vegetative morphology. In general, plants that occupy dry, sandy (more xeric) areas tend to be strongly rhizomatous, colonial, and smaller in stature, and to possess smaller leaves (commonly recognized as M. cerifera var. pumila). In contrast, plants of more mesic areas are seldom rhizomatous, not colonial, and often large and treelike, and they have larger leaves. These "extremes pass insensibly into each other" (J. W. Thieret 1966). I agree with Thieret's contention that these differences do not constitute reliable criteria upon which one should base taxonomic distinctions. Until it can be determined with certainty whether these differences are due to genetics or environment, the question will remain open. I have chosen the conservative route.

Myrica cerifera has often been confused with M. pensylvanica and with M. heterophylla. It is distinguished from M. pensylvanica on the basis of gland density on the leaves, the presence of glands versus hirsute pubescence on the fruit wall and protuberances (especially visible on young fruits), and less reliably on the size of the fruit (2-3.5 versus 3.5-5.5 mm). Myrica cerifera is distinguished from M. heterophylla by the density of the glands on the leaves and the glandular versus glabrous (usually) fruit wall.

Native Americans used a decoction of the leaves and stems of Myrica cerifera to treat fevers; and roots, to treat inflamed tonsils and stomachaches, and as a stimulant (D. E. Moerman 1986).

(Discussion copyrighted by Flora of North America; reprinted with permission.)

I have seen at least two specimens of Myrica gale from Seneca County, Ohio, although they could have been very old collections. They apparently do not represent the current situation in Ohio.

The spongy bracteoles that surround the fruits aid in dispersal by acting as flotation devices in water. A. J. Davey and C. M. Gibson (1917), as well as others, have commented on the sexual distribution in this species. A. D. MacDonald and R. Sattler (1973) and A. D. MacDonald (1977) have used this species to investigate the nature of the flower/inflorescence in Myricaceae.

The pounded branches of Myrica gale were utilized by the Bella Coola to prepare decoctions taken as a diuretic or as a treatment for gonorrhea (D. A. Moerman 1986).

(Discussion copyrighted by Flora of North America; reprinted with permission.)

Source FNA vol. 3. FNA vol. 3.
Parent taxa Myricaceae > Myrica Myricaceae > Myrica
Sibling taxa
M. californica, M. gale, M. hartwegii, M. heterophylla, M. inodora, M. pensylvanica
M. californica, M. cerifera, M. hartwegii, M. heterophylla, M. inodora, M. pensylvanica
Synonyms Cerophora lanceolata, Cerothamnus arborescens, Cerothamnus ceriferus, Cerothamnus pumilus, Morella cerifera, M. cerifera var. angustifolia, M. cerifera var. arborescens, M. cerifera var. dubia, M. cerifera var. pumila, M. pumila, M. pusilla
Name authority Linnaeus: Sp. Pl. 2: 1024. (1753) Linnaeus: Sp. Pl. 2: 1024. (1753)
Web links