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southern bayberry, southern wax-myrtle

evergreen bayberry, myrtle, southern bayberry, wax-myrtle

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 or small trees, evergreen or tardily deciduous, often forming rhizomatous colonies of much-branched specimens, to 3 m. Branchlets appearing black, glabrous to densely pilose; glands sparse or dense, yellow-orange.

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 aromatic when crushed, oblanceolate to elliptic, occasionally obovate, 3-12.4(-14.2) × 1-5.2 cm, sometimes membranous, more often leathery, base cuneate to attenuate, margins entire or serrate distal to middle, apex rounded to acute, apiculate;

surfaces abaxially pilose (especially on major veins) or glabrate, densely glandular, adaxially pilose or glabrous, lacking glands or very sparsely glandular;

glands yellow.


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

staminate 0.5-1.8 cm; pistillate 0.3-1.1 cm.


unisexual, staminate and pistillate on different plants.

unisexual, staminate and pistillate on different plants.

Staminate flowers

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

stamens mostly 3-4.

bract of flower shorter than staminal column, margins opaque, ciliate, especially at apex and laterally, abaxially glabrous or with few glands;

stamens 3-5(-7).

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 persistent in fruit, 4, not accrescent or adnate to fruit wall, abaxially pilose, usually along midrib, lacking glands;

ovary glabrous or sparsely glandular, not pubescent.


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.

globose-ellipsoid, 3-4.5 mm;

fruit wall glabrous or sparsely glandular, obscured by enlarged protuberances (± glandular) and thin to thick coat of gray to white wax.

Myrica cerifera

Myrica heterophylla

Phenology Flowering mid winter–spring, fruiting summer–fall. Flowering spring–early summer, fruiting summer–fall.
Habitat Bogs, edges of marshes, ponds, creeks, and swamps, pine forests, mixed deciduous forests, pine barrens, coastal sand dunes, open fields, sandy hillsides Bogs, stream, pond and lake margins, moist regions of mixed deciduous forests, pine flatlands near pitcher-plant bogs, swamps
Elevation 0-450 m (0-1500 ft) 0-250 m (0-800 ft)
from FNA
AL; AR; DE; FL; GA; LA; MD; MS; NC; NJ; OK; SC; TX; VA; Mexico; Central America; West Indies; Bermuda
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from FNA
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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 not seen any specimens of Myrica heterophylla from Delaware although it is listed in other floras as occurring there.

To distinguish between Myrica heterophylla and M. pensylvanica in the vegetative condition is difficult at best. Although M. heterophylla tends to have larger, persistent leaves (versus smaller, deciduous ones in M. pensylvanica), the difference breaks down, especially in the northern portion of the range of M. heterophylla. Male specimens provide little help in resolving this problem because the inflorescences are virtually identical. Female specimens are most useful (essential?) for definitive delimitation because the ovary and young fruit (wall and protuberances) of M. pensylvanica are pubescent in contrast to the glabrous or sparsely glandular fruits of M. heterophylla. Whether these differences are sufficient to warrant the recognition of distinct species is yet to be satisfactorily resolved. W. M. Houghton (1988) attempted to settle this matter, eventually recognizing two subspecies in M. pensylvanica, but he did not examine floral features in his analysis. Again, I have taken the conservative route, leaving the question largely unanswered.

(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. gale, M. hartwegii, 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 Cerothamnus carolinensis, M. cerifera var. augustifolia, M. cerifera var. latifolia, M. curtissii, M. curtissii var. media, M. heterophylla var. curtissii, M. sessilifolia, M. sessilifolia var. latifolia
Name authority Linnaeus: Sp. Pl. 2: 1024. (1753) Rafinesque: Alsogr. Amer., 9. (1838)
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