Myrica cerifera

Botanical Name : Myrica cerifera
Family: Myricaceae
Genus: Myrica
Species: M. cerifera
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Fagales

Synonyms : Cerothamnus arborescens, Cerothamnus cerifer, Morella cerifera, Myrica mexicana, Myrica pumila.

Common Names :Wax Myrtle – Bayberry Wild Cinnamon, Southern Bayberry, Wax Myrtle, Southern Wax Myrtle (Southern)  Bayberry, Candleberry, Bayberry tree, and Tallow shrub.

Habitat : Myrica cerifera  is native to South-eastern N. America. Possibly naturalized in S. England. It grows in the  thickets on sandy soil near swamps and marshes, also on dry arid hills in which situation it is often only a few centimetres tall..

Description:
Myrica cerifera is a small tree or large shrub, and is adaptable to many habitats. It grows naturally in wetlands, near flowing bodies of water, sand dunes, fields, hillsides, pine barrens, and in both needleleaf and mixed-broadleaf forests. Specimens in drier and sandier areas are shrub-like, have rhizomes and smaller leaves than usual. Specimens in wetter areas are more tree-like with bigger leaves. However, these two forms are not clear-cut, with many intermediate forms. It is found in various habitats ranging from Central America to Delaware and Maryland in the United States. However, the plant can be successfully cultivated as far north as southern Connecticut and Long Island on the U.S. east coast. It also grows in Bermuda and the Caribbean. In terms of succession, M. cerifera is often one of the first plants to colonize an area.

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M. cerifera is an evergreen. The leaves are long, and have leathery textures and serrated edges. They contain aromatic compounds. The leaves are glandular.

This plant is dioecious. Male flowers have three or four stamens, and are surrounded by short bracts. The flowers are borne on catkins. The female flowers develop into fruit, which are globular and surrounded by a natural wax-like coating. All flowers are borne in inflorescences. The species flowers in late winter to spring, and female specimens bear fruit in late summer or fall. No endosperm is present on the seeds. M. cerifera can also reproduce clonally through runners.

The fruit is a source of food for a lot of bird species, including the Northern Bobwhite Quail and the Wild Turkey. In winter, the seeds are important foods for the Carolina Wren and species of Tree Sparrow. To a point, M. cerifera will also provide habitat for the Northern Bobwhite Quail. Birds digestive systems’ remove the wax from the fruit, which a prerequisite for germination.

This plant’s roots possess root nodules. These are home to a symbiotic species of actinomycotal fungus, which fixes nitrogen at a faster rate than legumes.

M. cerifera, or rather its shoot, cannot handle wildfires well. Indeed, since the leaves, stem, and branches contain flammable aromatic compounds, a specimen of M. cerifera is a fire hazard. For that reason, a wildfire will often kill the shoot. Only a very small or transient fire will do less. In that case, only the most recent primary growth may be incinerated. In contrast to the weakness of its shoot, M. cerifera’s root system is fire-resistant. As of 1991, no known fire has killed this plant’s roots. However, this plant will not survive shoot destruction indefinitely. Three consecutive years of shoot destruction may kill all plants affected. If this does not happen, this species will regrow a shoot. This is most rapid in the first season after a fire.

Cultivation:
Landscape Uses:Border, Erosion control, Screen, Seashore, Specimen. Prefers a moist soil. Grows well in an open position in a well-drained soil in sun or light shade. Thrives in any ordinary garden soil according to one report whilst another says that it thrives in an acid soil. Prefers a lime-free loamy or peaty soil. Plants can be evergreen in areas with warmer winters than in Britain. Some reports say that the plant is dioecious whilst others say it is monoecious. It is most likely that both forms exist. A polymorphic species, there are some named forms. ‘Myda’ is a large-fruited female form of low growth. The fruit is covered with a deposit of wax that has a balsamic odour. The fruits can hang on the plant for several years. Closely related to M. pensylvanica, with which it hybridizes. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus. Many species in this genus have a symbiotic relationship with certain soil micro-organisms, these form nodules on the roots of the plants and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby. Special Features:Attracts birds, North American native, Fragrant foliage, Naturalizing, Wetlands plant, Attracts butterflies, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms.

Propagation: 
Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. Stored seed germinates more freely if given a 3 month cold stratification and then sown in a cold frame. Germination is usually good. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the cold frame for the first winter. Plant out in late spring or early summer. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 – 8cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Pot up and overwinter in a cold frame then plant out in late spring or early summer. Fair to good percentage. Layering in spring

Edible Uses:
Edible Parts: Fruit.
Edible Uses: Condiment; Tea.

Fruit – raw or cooked. The fruit is about 3mm in diameter with a large seed. There is very little edible flesh and the quality is poor. Leaves and berries are used as a food flavouring. They make an aromatic, attractive and agreeable substitute for bay leaves, and can be used in flavouring soups, stews etc. The dried leaves are brewed into a robust tea

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Medicinal Uses:
Bayberry root bark is the part used in herbalism. The plant contains several organic compounds, including: triterpenes such as myricadiol, taraxerol, and taraxerone, as well as chemicals such as different flavonoids, tannins, resins, gums, and phenols. These compounds have varying effects. Myricadiol has a slight impact on levels of potassium and sodium, while a substance called myricitrin has antibiotic properties.

A key herb in the Thomsonian system of medicine, being the main astringent used for “any stomach or bowel derangement, particularly after fevers.”   Internally used for fevers, colds, influenza, excess mucus, diarrhea, colitis, excessive menstruation, and vaginal discharge.  Externally for sore throat, ulcers, sores, itching skin conditions, dandruff and hair loss.  Bayberry is commonly used to increase circulation, stimulate perspiration, and keep bacterial infections in check. Colds, flu, coughs, and sore throats benefit from treatment with this herb as a hot decoction.  It helps to strengthen local resistance to infection and to tighten and dry mucous membranes.  An infusion is helpful for strengthening spongy gums, and a gargle is used for sore throat.  Bayberry’s astringency helps intestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and mucous colitis. It increases circulation to the area while acting to tone tissues involved. An infusion can also help treat excess vaginal discharge.  A paste of the powdered root bark may be applied onto ulcers and sores.  The powdered bark has been used as a snuff for congested nasal passages.  It has been used to treat post-partum hemorrhage and taken internally and used as a douche is recommended for excessive menstruation and leucorrhea.  It is used as a poultice to soothe varicose veins. Myricadiol has a mild effect on potassium and sodium levels.  Myricitrin is antibacterial and encourages the flow of bile.  The powder is strongly sternutatory and excites coughing. Water in which the wax has been ‘tried,’ when boiled to an extract, is regarded as a certain cure for dysentery, and the wax itself, being astringent and slightly narcotic, is valuable in severe dysentery and internal ulcerations. The leaves have provided vitamin C for curing scurvy.

Bayberry has a history of medicinal use. The Choctaw boiled and used the result as a treatment for fevers. Bayberry was eventually adopted as a medicinal plant, but only in the South. In 1722, it was reported that colonists in Louisiana drank a mixture of wax and hot water to treat severe dysentery.   Bayberry was reported in an account from 1737 as being used to treat convulsions, colic, palsy, and seizures. Starting in the early 19th century, a herbalist called Samuel Thompson recommended this plant for producing “heat” within the body and as a treatment for infectious diseases and diarrhea. That use of bayberry waned later in the 19th century, in favor of using it for a variety of ailments, including a topical use for bleeding gums. For twenty years starting in 1916, bayberry root bark was listed in the American National Formulary.

Medicinal use of Bayberry has declined since its peak in popularity in the 19th century. The plant is still used today in the treatment of fever, diarrhea, and a few other ailments. The chemical myricitrin has anti-fever properties. In addition, that chemical, along with the tannins, has anti-diarrheal properties. The myricitrin works as an antibiotic, while the tannins have astringent properties.

In general, either a decoction or a tincture is used. Infusions and a topical paste have also been used.

Pregnant women should not use Bayberry. In addition, tannin action relating to cancer is unclear, with studies indicating both pro and anti-cancer effects. Bayberry, just like any other medicinal plant, should only be used under the supervision of a physician

Other Uses:
Ornamental

Myrica cerifera finds use in gardening and horticulture. It has been commonly purported to grow in American hardiness zones of 11 to 7b. However, this is an old, conservative estimate; in recent years, plants have performed well along the east coast as far north as zone 6b in northern Rhode Island. M. pensylvanica substitutes for M. cerifera in areas colder than zone 6. Since the species is adaptable, it will tolerate many conditions, although it has a need for frequent pruning. It can handle abuse from bad pruning, however. The species has at least four cultivars. Those dubbed Fairfax, Jamaica Road, and Don’s Dwarf differ from the “typical” specimen in habit and form. The latter two are also resistant to leaf spot. Var. pumila is a dwarf cultivar

Candles;

Southern Bayberry’s fruits are a traditional source of the wax for those old-fashioned Christmas decorations called bayberry candles.  The wax was extracted by boiling the berries, and skimming off the floating hydrocarbons. The fats were then boiled again and then strained. After that the liquid was usable in candle making, whether through dipping or molding. Southern Bayberry is not the only plant usable for making bayberry candles, however. Its close relatives are also usable.

Southern Bayberry and its relatives have largely been supplanted in candlemaking by substitutes made from paraffin. The substitute candles have artificial colors and scents that create candles that look and smell similar to natural ones

Disclaimer:
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myrica_cerifera
http://www.herbnet.com/Herb%20Uses_AB.htm

http://www.ag.auburn.edu/hort/landscape/dbpages/233.html

http://www.sbs.utexas.edu/bio406d/images/pics/myr/myrica_cerifera.htm

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