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southern bayberry, southern wax-myrtle

bayberry family, wax-myrtle family

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 deciduous, usually aromatic and resinous.

commonly with nitrogen-fixing nodules.


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 commonly with peltate, multicellular, glandular trichomes.


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

axillary catkins;

bracts present.


unisexual, staminate and pistillate on different plants.

usually unisexual, occasionally bisexual, staminate and pistillate flowers usually on different plants, occasionally on same plants;

perianth absent.

Staminate flowers

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

stamens mostly 3-4.

subtended by solitary bract;

stamens 2-14(-22), hypogynous or ± epigynous;

filaments filiform, distinct or basally connate;

anthers dorsifixed, 2-locular, extrorsely dehiscent by longitudinal slits.

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.

subtended by solitary bract, bracteoles present or absent, usually 2-4(-8);

pistils 1, 2-carpellate, 1-locular;

ovules 1, basal, erect;

styles, if present, short;

stigmas 2.


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.

drupaceous or nutlike, smooth or often covered with warty protuberances, these commonly with waxy coating;

fruits sometimes enclosed by persistent, accrescent bracts and bracteoles.


with little or no endosperm;

embryo straight, with 2 plano-convex cotyledons.

Myrica cerifera


Phenology Flowering mid winter–spring, 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
Elevation 0-450 m (0-1500 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]
Widespread in temperate and subtropical regions
[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.)

Genera 2-4, species ca. 50 (2 genera, 8 species in the flora).

Significant disagreement exists concerning the number of genera to be recognized in Myricaceae. Myrica in the broad sense is sometimes divided into three genera. Comptonia L'Héritier ex Aiton is often segregated on the basis of leaf type, presence of stipules, and the burlike fruits with 6-8 accrescent bracts and bracteoles. Morella Loureiro sometimes is elevated from its usual rank of subgenus to emphasize differences concerning position of the catkins, size of the staminate bracts, and appearance of the fruits (A. Chevalier 1901; J. R. Baird 1968). The real question is the appropriate rank at which recognition should be made (T. S. Elias 1971). I follow a traditional approach in recognizing just Myrica and Comptonia in North America.

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

1. Leaves entire or serrate-denticulate, stipules absent; fruiting catkins short-cylindric; bracteoles 2-6, broadly ovate and equal to or shorter than fruits, or absent.
1. Leaves pinnatifid, stipules present; fruiting catkins globose-ovoid; bracteoles 2 at anthesis, linear-subulate, accrescent, developing 4-8 tertiary bracteoles, these much exceeding fruit.
Source FNA vol. 3. FNA vol. 3, p. 429. Author: Allan J. Bornstein.
Parent taxa Myricaceae > Myrica
Sibling taxa
M. californica, M. gale, M. hartwegii, M. heterophylla, M. inodora, M. pensylvanica
Subordinate taxa
Comptonia, Myrica
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) Blume
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