Southern wax myrtle is an incredibly tough evergreen when grown in the Southern climates where it is best suited. This North American native can be grown as a large shrub (pruning or hedging to size) or allowed to develop into a small tree. It tolerates a wide range of environmental stresses, including wet soil, drought, poor soil, salt spray in seaside plantings, heat, high winds, and it’s usually not “on the menu” for deer and rabbits. Note: this plant’s botanical name has been reclassified; it is synonymous with the previous name, Myrtus cerifera.
Southern wax myrtle is a dioecious species. That means there are male and female plants. The females produce the flowers that eventually result in small, waxy, blue-gray berries. You’ll need a male companion plant if you want to get berries.
The foliage is aromatic when handled or crushed, releasing the familiar bayberry scent that is popular for scenting candles and soaps. The coating of the berries is the source of the waxy substance that can be used for blending. The berries are simmered in water for a couple of hours to release the wax, which can then be extracted once the water cools, as it floats on the water’s surface. Unharvested berries provide a winter food source for a wide variety of birds.
Fast growth (1-2’ per year) makes this an ideal selection for creating a quick privacy screen, windbreak, or to help establish a new landscape. Also useful for erosion control on hillsides. The leaves, stems, and branches contain volatile aromatic compounds, so this may not be the ideal choice for a foundation planting near a house or in regions prone to wildfires.