Height: Up to 20 feet, but essentially a large shrub
Lifespan: Single stems rarely exceed 50 years, but several stems may arise from the same root system, thereby complicating notions of tree age
Fall Foliage: Green
Range: The southeastern United States from Virginia to Texas; primarily restricted to the coastal plain, but it does extend into the piedmont in places
Typical Habitat: A very adaptable species, but most common in lowland habitats; often near fresh or brackish water
The Wax Myrtle: Valuable to Wildlife; More Valuable to Humans
The wax myrtle is – like most other native species – important to the ecosystems in which it lives, and it provides some food and cover value for wildlife. But humans likely derive much more substantial benefit from the species.
For starters, the wax myrtle was used to make soap and candles, via a multi-step process involving the boiling of the tree’s fruit. The bark has also enjoyed a long relationship with humans, as it has been used to treat everything from fever to stomach ailments. Some have even suggested that the bark has cancer-fighting properties. However, it is important to note that none of these supposed health benefits have been verified.
Finally, wax myrtles are very popular ornamental trees, so they’re widely planted in residential, commercial, and recreational properties.
Wax Myrtle Identification: Tips & Tricks
Once you become familiar with the wax myrtle tree, it is rarely difficult to identify. Just look for a large shrub or small tree with elongate, simple leaves growing near the water. Often, the leaves will have a few coarse teeth scattered around the margin.
The most likely species this tree would be confused with would likely be the swamp laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia) or the black willow (Salix nigra) – both of which are also common around water. However, the wax myrtle is the only one of the three that’s evergreen. Additionally, both the oak and willow are more likely to grow as single-trunked trees, instead of multi-trunked “shrubs.”
The Myrtle: Additional Information
Eager to learn more about this underappreciated tree? Check out these resources to learn more about the wax myrtle:
- North Carolina State Extension: A great overview of the species, including a quick-reference chart and numerous high-quality photographs.
- U.S. Forest Service: A comprehensive species guide, including everything from a range map to the species’ response to fire.
- Maryland Biodiversity Project: Although this reference is pretty Maryland-specific, it’ll provide plenty of value to nature lovers living in other places.