When you go out the door on a chilly January day, what is the first thing you look for? For me, it’s a bit of something green. I need to see some confirmation that life is still there. While I love the look of bare deciduous tree branches, I need the green! Therefore, when I write Plant Spotlight features in the winter, I try to pick something evergreen to discuss. Last January was resurrection fern and the one before that was Christmas fern. This time, it’s wax myrtle (Morella cerifera).
Many years ago, in 2002, this native shrub was chosen as the GNPS Plant of the Year. That was before our t-shirt program, by the way, so you won’t see anyone walking around in a wax myrtle shirt. It was selected for good reasons: this shrub is native to the Coastal Plain and Southern Piedmont and is adaptable to a wide variety of growing conditions including damp to dry soil and from sun to shade. It tolerates poor soil amazingly well, due to its ability to fix nitrogen through root nodules. The wax myrtle is even accepting of salt spray, making it suitable for beachside plantings.
Flowers are borne on separate male and female plants (so plan to get more than one); the tiny female flowers turn into equally tiny fruits: only about 1/8 inch in diameter, they are an attractive bluish-white and are relished by many songbird species, including the bluebird, tree swallow, catbird, myrtle warbler (also known as the yellow-rumped warbler), and the Georgia State Bird, the brown thrasher.
The evergreen leaves add color to the landscape and shelter for birds. The plant tolerates pruning, allowing it to function as a hedge if needed. Dwarf varieties have been cultivated by nurserymen for smaller yards: look for ‘Don’s Dwarf’ and ‘Suwannee Elf’ among others. If you’re using a straight species plant, allow for a size of 15-25 feet at maturity.