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What is a Bayberry?

C. Ausbrooks
C. Ausbrooks

Bayberry, also known as wax myrtle or candleberry, is a shrub or small tree that can grow up to 40 feet (12 meters) high. The plant is native to sandy swamps, bogs, and wet woodland areas in Europe, Africa, Asia, North America, and South America. It is deciduous to evergreen, with some species losing their leaves in the winter, and other species staying green year-round. However, the majority of bayberry species are evergreen.

The leaves of a bayberry shrub are from 1-4 inches (3-10 centimeters) in length, with few teeth, and a narrow, wedged shape. They are broader at the tip, and put off a pleasant fragrance when bruised or crushed. Leaves are a lustrous dark green color, and are retained until late fall before dropping.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The flowers on a bayberry plant are small, white to green in color, and appear in early to mid spring before the new leaves have grown. Male and female flowers are borne on different plants. The male flowers typically appear in cylindrical clusters, and the female flowers in shorter, rounder clusters.

Bayberry is known for its wax covered berry-like fruit, which is used for its ornamental value, particularly in the winter months. The fruit stays on the tree for a long period of time, ripening in September and remaining as long for as the following spring. Each fruit is around 1/8 inch (1 centimeter) in diameter, and is hard to the touch.

The waxy coating of bayberry fruit also produces a pleasant aroma, which is often used to make candles, potpourris, and soap fragrances. The wax is removed by gently boiling the berries in water, and then allowing the water to cool. The wax will harden as a film on top of the water, where it can be removed and directly added to candles and soaps.

Although traditionally used to make candles, there are many other uses of bayberry. The leaves can be used as a natural insect repellent, and they are often grown as ornamental plants in personal gardens and landscaping. As a landscape plant, bayberry is best suited for use along borders, as a foundation planting, or planting near buildings and structures, and as an erosion cover.

Bayberries are a preferred food source for several bird species, including gray catbirds, tree swallows, red bellied woodpeckers, yellow-rumped warblers, and eastern meadowlarks. They also attract various songbirds, which make their nests in the foliage. This is beneficial to the propagation of bayberry, as the seeds are spread through the birds’ droppings. In addition, bayberry leaves also serve as food for several different moths, including brown-tail, emperor moth, and winter moth.

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