The Essentials of Southern Waxmyrtle

southern waxmyrtle tree
Southern Waxmyrtle. (John D. Byrd/Mississippi State University/Bugwood.org)

Southern waxmyrtle has multiple, twisted trunks with smooth, light gray bark. Wax myrtle is aromatic with olive green leaves and clusters of grey-blue, waxy berries on female plants which attract wildlife.

Waxmyrtle is a popular landscape plant, ideal for use as a small tree if the lower limbs are removed to display its form. Waxmyrtle can stand impossible soil conditions, is rapid-growing and a striking evergreen.

Without pruning, it will grow as wide as it is tall, usually 10' to 20'.

Specifics

Scientific name: Myrica cerifera
Pronunciation: MEER-ih-kuh ser-IF-er-uh
Common name(s): Southern Waxmyrtle, Southern Bayberry
Family: Myricaceae
Origin: native to North America
USDA hardiness zones:: 7b through 11
Origin: native to North America
Uses: Bonsai; container or above-ground planter; hedge; large parking lot islands

Cultivars

The cultivar 'Pumila' is a dwarf form, less than three feet high.

Myrica pensylvanica, Northern Bayberry, is a more cold-hardy species and the source of wax for bayberry candles. Propagation is by seeds, which germinate easily and rapidly, tip cuttings, division of the stolons or transplanting wild plants.

Pruning

Waxmyrtle is a very forgiving tree when pruned. Dr. Michael Dirr says in his book Trees and Shrubs that the tree "withstands the endless pruning required to keep it in check." Wax myrtle will need pruning to keep it specimen beautiful.

Removing excess shoot growth two times each year eliminates the tall, lanky branches and reduces the tendency for branches to droop. Some landscape managers hedge the crown into a multi-stemmed, dome-shaped topiary.

Description

Height: 15 to 25 feet
Spread: 20 to 25 feet
Crown uniformity: irregular outline or silhouette
Crown shape: round; vase shape
Crown density: moderate
Growth rate: fast

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: bark is thin and easily damaged from mechanical impact; limbs droop as the tree grows, and may require pruning; routinely grown with, or trainable to be grown with, multiple trunks; showy trunk
Pruning requirement: requires pruning to develop strong structure
Breakage: susceptible to breakage either at the crotch due to poor collar formation, or the wood itself is weak and tends to break
Current year twig color: brown; gray
Current year twig thickness: thin

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire; serrate
Leaf shape: oblong; oblanceolate; spatulate
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen; fragrant
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no fall color change
Fall characteristic: not showy

Interesting Notes

Waxmyrtle can be planted within a 100+ miles of the U.S. border, from Washington state to Southern New Jersey and south; Waxmyrtle withstands endless pruning; Waxmyrtle fixes nitrogen in poor soils; Waxmyrtle transplants well from containers.

Culture

Light requirement: tree grows in part shade/part sun; tree grows in the shade; tree grows in full sun
Soil tolerances: clay; loam; sand; acidic; alkaline; extended flooding; well-drained
Drought tolerance: moderate
Aerosol salt tolerance: high
Soil salt tolerance: moderate

In Depth

Southern Waxmyrtle is very tough and easily grown and can tolerate a variety of landscape settings from full sun to partial shade, wet swamplands or high, dry and alkaline areas. Growth is thin in total shade. It is also very salt-tolerant (soil and aerosol), making it suitable for seaside applications.

It adapts well to parking lot and street tree planting, especially beneath power lines, but branches tend to droop toward the ground, possibly hindering flow of vehicular traffic if not properly trained and pruned. Set them back from the road if used as a street tree so drooping branches will not hinder traffic.

Removing excess shoot growth two times each year eliminates the tall, lanky branches and reduces the tendency for branches to droop. Some landscape managers hedge the crown into a multistemmed dome-shaped topiary.

Plants spaced 10 feet apart, maintained in this manner, can create a nice canopy of shade for pedestrian traffic. Plants should be watered well until established and will then require no further care.

The only drawback to the plant is its tendency to sprout from the roots. This can be a nuisance as they need to be removed several times each year to keep the tree looking sharp. However, in a naturalized garden this thick growth could be an advantage since it would provide good nesting cover for wildlife. Only female trees produce fruit provided there is a male nearby, but seeds do not appear to become a weed problem in the landscape.