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Myrtle
Myrtus communis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Myrtales
Family: Myrtaceae
Genus: Myrtus
L.
Species

Myrtus communis L.
Myrtus nivellei Batt. & Trab.

Myrtus (myrtle) is a genus of one or two species of flowering plants in the family Myrtaceae, native to southern Europe and north Africa. The plant is an evergreen shrub or small tree, growing to 5 m tall. The leaf is entire, 3-5 cm long, with a fragrant essential oil. The star-like flower has five petals and sepals, and numerous stamens. Petals usually are white. The fruit is a round blue-black berry containing several seeds. The flower is pollinated by insects, and the seeds are dispersed by birds that eat the berries.

The common myrtle Myrtus communis, also called true myrtle, is widespread in the Mediterranean region and is commonly cultivated. The other species, Saharan myrtle M. nivellei, is restricted to the Tassili n'Ajjer mountains in southern Algeria and the Tibesti Mountains in Chad, where it occurs in small areas of sparse relict woodland near the centre of the Sahara Desert; it is listed as an endangered species. However, some botanists are not convinced that M. nivellei is sufficiently distinct to be treated as a separate species.

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Modern uses

Myrtle is cultivated as an ornamental garden shrub, particularly for its numerous flowers in later summer. It may be clipped to form a hedge.

It is used in the islands of Sardinia and Corsica to produce an aromatic liqueur called "Mirto"' by macerating it in alcohol. It is known as one of the most typical drinks of Sardinia[1]. There are two varieties of this drink: the "Mirto Rosso" (red) produced by macerating the berries, and the "Mirto Bianco" (white) produced from the leaves.

Uses in myth and ritual

In Greek mythology and ritual the myrtle was sacred to the goddesses Aphrodite[2] and also Demeter: Artemidorus asserts that in interpreting dreams “a myrtle garland signifies the same as an olive garland, except that it is especially auspicious for farmers because of Demeter and for women because of Aphrodite. For the plant is sacred to both goddesses.”[3] Pausanias explains that one of the Graces in the sanctuary at Elis holds a myrtle branch because “the rose and the myrtle are sacred to Aphrodite and connected with the story of Adonis, while the Graces are of all deities the nearest related to Aphrodite.” Myrtle is the garland of Iacchus, according to Aristophanes,[4] and of the victors at the Theban Iolaea, held in honour of the Theban hero Iolaus.[5]

In Rome, Virgil explains that “the poplar is most dear to Alcides, the vine to Bacchus, the myrtle to lovely Venus, and his own laurel to Phoebus.”[6] At the Veneralia, women bathed wearing crowns woven of myrtle branches, and myrtle was used in wedding rituals.

In the Mediterranean, myrtle was symbolic of love and immortality. In their culture the plant was used extensively and was considered an essential plant.

In pagan and wicca rituals, myrtle is commonly associated with and sacred to Beltane (May Day).

In Jewish liturgy, it is one of the four sacred plants of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles representing the different types of personality making up the community - the myrtle having fragrance but not pleasant taste, represents those who have good deeds to their credit despite not having knowledge from Torah study. Three branches are held by the worshippers along with a citron, a palm leaf, and two willow branches. In Jewish mysticism, the myrtle represents the phallic, masculine force at work in the universe. For this reason myrtle branches were sometimes given the bridegroom as he entered the nuptial chamber after a wedding (Tos. Sotah 15:8; Ketubot 17a). Myrtles are both the symbol and scent of Eden (BhM II: 52; Sefer ha-Hezyonot 17). The Hechalot text Merkavah Rabbah requires one to suck on a myrtle leaves as an element of a theurgic ritual. Kabbalists link myrtle to the sefirah of Tiferet and use sprigs in their Shabbat (especially Havdalah) rites to draw down its harmonizing power as the week is initiated (Shab. 33a; Zohar Chadash, SoS, 64d; Sha’ar ha-Kavvanot, 2, pp. 73-76).

Ancient medicinal uses

"The myrtle occupies a prominent place in the writings of Hippocrates, Pliny, Dioscorides, Galen, and the Arabian writers."[7]. Numerous Mediterranean countries use the extract of the Myrtle herb to make the hair grow longer in a short period of time as well.

Related plants

Many other related species native to South America, New Zealand and elsewhere, previously classified in a wider interpretation of the genus Myrtus, are now treated in other genera, Eugenia, Lophomyrtus, Luma, Rhodomyrtus, Syzygium, Ugni, and at least a dozen other genera. The name "myrtle" is also used to refer to unrelated plants in several other genera: "Crape myrtle" (Lagerstroemia, Lythraceae), "Wax myrtle" (Morella, Myricaceae), and "Myrtle" or "Creeping myrtle" (Vinca, Apocynaceae).

Footnotes

  1. ^ "Liquore di mirto" (in Italian). Italian Wikipedia. http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquore_di_mirto. Retrieved 2007-06-18.  
  2. ^ V. Pirenne-Delforge, “Épithètes cultuelles et interpretation philosophique: à propos d’Aphrodite Ourania et Pandémos à Athènes.” AntCl 57 (1980::142-57) p. 413.
  3. ^ Artemidorus, Oneirocritica, I.77. (translation of Hugh G. Evelyn-White).
  4. ^ Aristophanes, The Frogs, the Iacchus chorus, 330ff.
  5. ^ Pindar, Isthmian Ode IV.
  6. ^ Virgil, Eclogue VII.61-63.
  7. ^ Pharmacographia Indica 1891 edition, London

External links


Wikispecies

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies

Taxonavigation

Classification System: APG II (down to family level)

Main Page
Cladus: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiospermae
Cladus: Eudicots
Cladus: core eudicots
Cladus: Rosids
Cladus: Eurosids I
Ordines: Unassigned Eurosids I
Cladus: Unassigned Rosids
Ordo: Myrtales
Familia: Myrtaceae
Subfamilia: Myrtoideae
Tribus: Myrteae
Genus: Myrtus
Species: M. arayan - M. communis - M. maxima - M. nivellei - M. mucronata - M. obcordata - M. sericea - M. zuzygium

Name

Myrtus L., Sp. Pl. 1: 471. 1753.

References

Vernacular names

Svenska: Myrtensläktet

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