Bayberry: A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information on bayberry

Myrica cerifera is an evergreen of the Myricaceae family. The glandular leaves are long, have a leathery texture and serrated edges, and contain aromatic compounds.

The plant is dioecious, with male and female flowers borne in catkins on separate plants. Male flowers have three or four stamens, and are surrounded by short bracts. The female flowers develop into fruit, which are globular and surrounded by a natural wax-like coating. The species flowers from late winter to spring, and bear fruit in late summer or fall.

No endosperm is present on the seeds. This plant can also reproduce via underground runners. This species occurs in two forms, but there is no clear dividing line between them, many intermediate forms occurring.

Specimens in drier and sandier areas are shrub-like, have rhizomes and smaller leaves. Those growing in damper situations with richer soil are more tree-like with bigger leaves.

common names
& nomenclature

The generic name Myrica comes from a Greek word myrike, which refers to some fragrant plant (possibly tamarisk). The specific name cerifera means "wax-bearing".

Also known as:
american bayberry, american vegetable tallow tree, bayberry wax tree, candleberry, candleberry myrtle, katphala, myrtle, wax myrtle, wax berry, southern wax myrtle, southern bayberry, bayberry tree, tallow shrub, myrica, arbre a suif, myricae cortex, small waxberry, yang-mei, vegetable wax, and northern bayberry

Bayberry, the holiday evergreen tree
Bayberry: Where in the World
habitat and range for bayberry

Bayberry is native to North America and is most common in peninsular Florida and on the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States. It occurs from the Florida Keys north to southern New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware; west to eastern Texas, southeast Oklahoma, and central Arkansas. Less frequent occurrences include Maine, Massachusetts, and New York.

Outside the United States, wax-myrtle grows in Bermuda, Cuba, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the British West Indies. It grows in Mexico, Central America, and South America from Costa Rica to Belize.

Bayberry: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting bayberry

Bayberry is adaptable to many habitats, growing naturally in wetlands, near rivers and streams, sand dunes, fields, hillsides, pine barrens, swamps, sandy areas, and in both coniferous and mixed-broadleaf forests; the plant likes full sun.

is very adaptable to difficult soil conditions and can grow in poor, sandy or heavy clay soils. It does best in slightly acid soil.

Bayberry has male and female plant parts on separate plants (dioecious), so in order for the female plant to produce berries a male and a female plant need to be planted near each other.

Sow seeds in a cold frame as soon as soon as they are ripe in the autumn. Stored seed germinates more freely if given a 3 month cold stratification and then sown in a cold frame. Transplant 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. Bayberry can also be propagated by cuttings or layering.

Harvest the root in late autumn and pound to separate bark from the root. Dry thoroughly and powder.

Gather the berries early in the morning in the fall or winter and boil to remove the wax. The wax will float on top and can be skimmed off. It is called myrtle wax. It can be used to make soap or candles.

Dry the root thoroughly and keep in a dry place. Once dried, bayberry root can also be ground and stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Bayberry: The Rest of the Story
bayberry history, folklore, literature & more

bayberry and wellness
Hundreds of years ago bayberry was widely used medicinally. Today bayberry has nearly been forgotten. Science has shown this native American herb may have some real benefits in treating fever and diarrhea.

Bayberry root bark contains an antibiotic chemical (myricitrin), which may fight a broad range of bacteria and protozoa. Myricitrin's antibiotic action supports bayberry's traditional use against diarrhea and dysentery. Bayberry also contains astringent tannins, which add to its value in treating diarrhea.

The antibiotic myricitrin also helps reduce fever, thus lending credence to bayberry's use among the Choctow Indians.

Myricitrin promotes the flow of bile and might potentially be of value in liver and gallbladder ailments, but as yet no research demonstrates this.

In large doses, bayberry root bark may cause stomach distress, nausea, and vomiting. Those with chronic gastrointestinal conditions, such as colitis should use it cautiously.

Bayberry changes the way the body uses sodium and potassium. Those who must watch their sodium/potassium balance, such as people with kidney disease, high blood pressure, or congestive heart failure, for example, should consult their physicians before using it.