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Myrica cerifera
Myrica cerifera near a body of water
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Fagales
Family: Myricaceae
Genus: Myrica
Species: M. cerifera
Binomial name
Myrica cerifera
L.

Myrica cerifera is a small tree or large shrub native to North America. Its common names include (Southern) Wax myrtle, (Southern) Bayberry, Candleberry, Bayberry tree, and Tallow shrub. It sees uses both in the garden and for candlemaking, as well as a medicinal plant.

Contents

Taxonomy

This plant is one of several Myrica species that are sometimes split into the genus Morella, e.g. in the Integrated Taxonomic Information System. This species also has several synonyms aside from the Myrica/Morella split: Cerothamnus pumilus, C. ceriferus, Myrica cerifera var. pumila, and Myrica pusilla.[1] Myrica cerifera is most similar to M. pensylvanica and M. heterophylla. These plants' fruits can distinguish them.[2]

The generic name Myrica comes from a Greek word myrike, which refers to some fragrant plant (possibly tamarisk). The specific name means "wax-bearing".[3]

Description

Myrica cerifera is a small tree or large shrub,[4] 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.[2] In terms of succession, M. cerifera is often one of the first plants to colonize an area.[3]

M. cerifera is an evergreen. The leaves are long, and have leathery textures and serrated edges. They contain aromatic compounds. The leaves are glandular.[2]

This plant is dioecious. Male flowers have three or four stamens, and are surrounded by short bracts.[2]. The flowers are borne on catkins.[4] 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.[2] No endosperm is present on the seeds. M. cerifera can also reproduce clonally through runners.[3]

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.[3]

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.[3]

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.[3]

Uses

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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.[5] Since the species is adaptable, it will tolerate many conditions, although it has a need for frequent pruning.[6] It can handle abuse from bad pruning, however.[7] The species has at least four cultivars. Those dubbed Fairfax, Jamaica Road, and Don's Swarf differ from the "typical" specimen in habit and form. The latter two are also resistant to leaf spot.[8] Var. pumila is a dwarf cultivar.[5]

Medicinal

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.[4]

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.[9] Bayberry was reported in an account from 1737 as being used to treat convulsions, colic, palsy, and seizures.[4] 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.[9] For twenty years starting in 1916, bayberry root bark was listed in the American National Formulary.[4]

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.[10]

In general, either a decoction or a tincture is used.[10] Infusions and a topical paste have also been used.[4]

Pregnant women should not use Bayberry.[4] 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.[11]

Candles

Southern Bayberry's fruits are a traditional source of the wax for those old-fashioned Christmas decorations called bayberry candles.[3] 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.[12]

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.[12]

References

  1. ^ "ITIS Standard Report Page: Morella cerifera". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. http://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=507899. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Myrica cerifera in Flora of North America @ efloras.org". Flora of North America. http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=233500790. Retrieved 2008-01-08. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Timothy R. Van Deelen (1991). "Myrica cerifera". Fire Effects Information System. United States Forest Service. http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/myrcer/all.html. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Andrew Chevallier (1996). The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. The Reader's Digest Association. p. 236. ISBN 0-88850-546-9. 
  5. ^ a b Edward F. Gilman & Dennis G. Watson (November 1993). "Myrica cerifera: Southern Waxmyrtle". Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ST410. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  6. ^ "Myrica cerifera". Louisiana State University. http://www.lsu.edu/horticulture/plantmaterials/Plant%20Groups/Evergreen%20Trees/Myrica%20cerifera/index.htm. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  7. ^ Erv Evans (2003-4). "Shrubs: Myrica cerifera". North Carolina State University. http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/shrubs/myrica_cerifera.html. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  8. ^ "Select Myrica cerifera cultivars". http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/shrubs/cultivars/myrica_cerifera-table.html. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  9. ^ a b Michael Castleman (1991). The Healing Herbs. Rhodale Press. p. 69. ISBN 0-87857-934-6. 
  10. ^ a b Michael Castleman (1991). The Healing Herbs. Rhodale Press. p. 70. ISBN 0-87857-934-6. 
  11. ^ Michael Castleman (1991). The Healing Herbs. Rhodale Press. p. 70–1. ISBN 0-87857-934-6. 
  12. ^ a b Back to the Basics - How to Learn and Enjoy Our Traditional Skills. Montreal, PQ: The Readers Digest Association Canada. 1981. p. 372. ISBN-0-88850-098-X. 

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