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SPECIES:  Morella cerifera
Wax myrtle. Creative Commons image by T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org.

 


Introductory

SPECIES: Morella cerifera
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Van Deelen, Timothy R. 1991. Morella cerifera. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/morcer/all.html [].
Updates: On 26 February 2018, the scientific and common name of this species was changed in FEIS from: Myrica cerifera, wax-myrtle to: Morella cerifera, wax myrtle. Images were also added. ABBREVIATION: MORCER SYNONYMS: Myrica carolinensis Mill. [52] Myrica cerifera L. (Myricaceae) [8,49,50,51,53] Myrica cerifera var. cerifera Myrica cerifera var. pumila Michx. [8] Myrica pusilla Raf. Myrica mexicana Willd. [52] NRCS PLANT CODE: MOCE2 COMMON NAMES: wax myrtle bayberry candleberry dwarf waxmyrtle southern bayberry southern waxmyrtle wax-myrtle waxmyrtle TAXONOMY: The scientific name for wax myrtle is Morella cerifera (L.) Small. (Myricaceae) Morella cerifera hybridizes with M. pennsylvania, producing M. macfarlanei Youngken [16]. LIFE FORM: Shrub, Tree FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY

DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE

SPECIES: Morella cerifera
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Wax myrtle is most common in peninsular Florida and on the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States. It occurs from the Florida Keys north to southern New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware; west to eastern Texas, southeast Oklahoma, and central Arkansas. Atypical reported occurrences include Maine, Massachusetts, and New York.
Distribution of wax myrtle. 1977 USDA, Forest Service map digitized by Thompson and others [54].
Outside the United States, wax myrtle grows in Bermuda, Cuba, the
Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the British West Indies.  It grows in Mexico,
Central America, and South America from Costa Rica to Belize [16,20,26].


ECOSYSTEMS: 
   FRES12  Longleaf - slash pine
   FRES13  Loblolly - shortleaf pine
   FRES14  Oak - pine
   FRES15  Oak - hickory
   FRES16  Oak - gum - cypress
   FRES32  Texas savanna
   FRES41  Wet grasslands


STATES: 
     AR  FL  GA  HI  LA  ME  MD  MA  MS  NY
     NC  OK  TX  VA  MEXICO


BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS: 
NO-ENTRY


KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS: 
   K062  Mesquite - live oak savanna
   K079  Palmetto prairie
   K080  Marl - everglades
   K089  Black belt
   K090  Live oak - sea oats
   K091  Cypress savanna
   K092  Everglades
   K105  Mangrove
   K111  Oak - hickory - pine forest
   K112  Southern mixed forest
   K113  Southern floodplain forest
   K114  Pocosin
   K116  Subtropical pine forest


SAF COVER TYPES: 
    70  Longleaf pine
    71  Longleaf pine - scrub oak
    72  Southern scrub oak
    73  Southern redcedar
    74  Cabbage palmetto
    80  Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
    81  Loblolly pine
    82  Loblolly pine - hardwood
    83  Longleaf pine - slash pine
    84  Slash pine
   100  Pondcypress
   102  Baldcypress - tupelo
   103  Water tupelo - swamp tupelo
   104  Sweetbay - swamp tupelo - red bay
   105  Tropical hardwoods
   106  Mangrove
   111  South Florida slash pine


SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES: 
NO-ENTRY


HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: 
Wax myrtle is common in a variety of habitats and plant
communities in the southeastern United States.  It grows equally well
with the subtropical vegetation of south Florida and the temperate
vegetation of the Inland Coastal Plain.  Wax myrtle is the most
common shrub in the longleaf (Pinus palustris)-slash pine (P. elliottii)
type [3,20,23,36].  Other common overstory associates include loblolly
pine (P. taeda), southern redcedar (Juniperus silicicola) [11], cabbage
palmetto (Sabal palmetto) [48], pond pine (Pinus serotina) [4], live oak
(Quercus virginiana) [19], spruce pine (Pinus glabra) [22], and
baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) [11,33].  Common understory associates
include dahoon holly (Ilex cassine), sawgrass (Cladium jamaicensis) [30],
muhly grass (Muhlenbergia spp.), beard grass (Andropogon spp.), saltbush
(Baccharis halimifolia), myrsine (Myrsine floridana), and sweet bay
(Magnolia virginiana) [49].

MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS

SPECIES: Morella cerifera
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: A consistent contributor to the available browse biomass in southeastern forests, wax myrtle is occasionally eaten by cattle [7]. Wax myrtle frequently invades rangeland and decreases the production of more palatable forage [45]. Many birds eat southern bayberry fruit, including the northern bobwhite quail and the wild turkey [15]. The seeds are important winter food for Carolina wrens and tree sparrows [17]. PALATABILITY: Wax myrtle is unpalatable to white-tailed deer in eastern Texas [24,25]. Its palatability to cattle is unreported. NUTRITIONAL VALUE: NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE: Diffuse wax myrtle growth provides some cover for northern bobwhite quail, although unrestricted growth produces unusable habitat [21]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: Wax myrtle's usefulness for disturbed site rehabilitation is unknown. Useful attributes include a moderate tolerance of salt-spray [34] and an ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen at a rate that exceeds that of legumes [9]. Wild wax myrtle seeds can be harvested by hand or shaken onto a canvas. Seed processing requires removal of the waxy coat by mechanical agitation or rubbing over a dry screen. Before sowing, the seeds require stratification at 34 to 40 degrees F (1-4 deg C) for 90 days. The seeds should be drilled into rows 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) apart and covered with 0.25 inch (0.8 cm) of firmed soil. Fall plantings should be mulched. Wax myrtle yields approximately 84,000 cleaned seeds per pound (184,000/kg) [20]. OTHER USES AND VALUES: Wax myrtle is the source of wax used in making bayberry candles. Boiling removes the wax from the fruit. The genus name comes from the Greek "myrike", meaning tamarisk or some other fragrant plant. The specific epithet, cerifera, means "wax-bearing" [20,41]. Wax myrtle was first cultivated in 1699 for medicinal purposes. Its leaves, bark, and fruit yield pharmaceutical chemicals [20]. Wax myrtle is a popular ornamental because it grows quickly, responds well to pruning, and is heavily clothed in attractive evergreen foliage [20,41]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Wax myrtle is an understory pest on southern pine plantations. It competes with pine seedlings and contribute to an accumulation of understory fuels which increases the potential for damaging wildfires [27,28]. Pearson and others [36] believe that the presence of southern bayberry on grazed longleaf pine plantations may have eased grazing pressure on the pine seedlings. A 20 percent Garlon 4, 10 percent Cide-kick (a penetrant), 70 percent diesel-oil herbicide mixture can be used for wax myrtle control. Basal applications should be made in February, using the "streamline" technique [32]. Tests of burning, chopping, and blading methods for wax myrtle control found that wax myrtle can return to pretreatment levels within 3 years [43].

BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS

SPECIES: Morella cerifera
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Wax myrtle is an erect, evergreen, small tree or shrub. It is native to low-elevation tropical, subtropical, and warm-temperate regions of the Americas. It grows to a maximum height of 40 feet (12 m), and a maximum d.b.h. of 12.5 inches (32 cm) at maturity [16,20]. Its flat leaves are toothed near the end and aromatic when crushed [3]. The diminutive flowers are unisexual, dioecious, and borne on catkinlike axillary spikes. Wax myrtle fruit are small, light green, dry drupes which are covered with a conspicuous layer of pale blue wax, giving them a "warty" appearance. Each axillary spike bears 1 to 12 berries, which may persist over winter [10,20]. The seeds have no endosperm [20]. Wax myrtle is clonal, with several stems growing from a common root collar. Underground runners extend the growth laterally [16]. Root nodules, associated with a symbiotic actinomycete, are capable of atmospheric nitrogen fixation [9]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Wax myrtle reproduces vegetatively by sprouting from its root collar and underground runners [9]. Seedlings will establish on disturbed sites [39], but the seeds require removal of their waxy coating before they will germinate [20]. Birds, feeding on southern bayberry fruit, probably accomplish wax removal and seed dispersal. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Wax myrtle grows on a variety of sites but seems to be restricted to climates with mild winters and long, hot, humid summers, and elevations below 500 feet (150 m). It grows in heavy soils [41] which may be either wet or dry, in habitats that may be open or wooded [3]. Wax myrtle's ecological amplitude is demonstrated by reported growth on fresh to slightly brackish banks and shores, flats and interdune swales, pine and palmetto flatwoods and savannas, cypress-gum ponds and swamps, wet and dry prairies, pitcher-plant bogs, upland mixed woodlands, old fields, and fence and hedge rows [6,16,40]. Additionally, it grows on sites that are peculiar to the Florida Everglades, particularly the drier portions [29] where it reaches its highest density with low to medium flooding [41]. Such sites include tree islands, cypress heads, and wet and dry hammocks [10,16,29,47]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Wax myrtle is an early successional species. It is one of the first woody plants to invade secondary dunes and beach meadows in the Southeast [9], and naturally reseeds disturbed sites from adjacent forests [31]. In the Everglades, increased human-caused disturbance, such as draining and burning, has caused wax myrtle to become more common as it invades sawgrass, marl prairie, and mixed hardwood swamp communities. Dense thickets form, known locally as "hell nests" [18,29,47]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Wax myrtle flowers between February and June. Its fruit ripens from August to October [2].

FIRE ECOLOGY

SPECIES: Morella cerifera
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Wax myrtle is a fire survivor. Its root crown survives fire and it regenerates by basal sprouting [44,45]. FIRE REGIMES: Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY: survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex

FIRE EFFECTS

SPECIES: Morella cerifera
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: Fire easily top-kills wax myrtle shrubs [44]. Typically the entire aerial portion of the stem dies [13], although extremely light fires may only kill the most recent annual growth [21]. The root crown survives and remains vigorous. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT: Wax myrtle stems die quickly. The stems and foliage of southern bayberry contain large amounts of aromatic compounds that are quite flammable [6], making it a potential fire hazard. Presumably, severe enough fires will kill wax myrtle rootstock, although no such instances were reported in the literature. The rootstock is apparently quite hardy. PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: Wax myrtle sprouts vigorously from surviving root crowns following fire [2]. The most vigorous growth occurs in the 1st postfire year [1]. Stem density and frequency increase rapidly relative to cover. Cover increases less rapidly because the wax myrtle clones are self-thinning [2,44]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE: Fire periodicity probably determines the long-term fire response of wax myrtle. In loblolly stands in South Carolina, single or occasional summer fires caused wax myrtle cover to increase. By contrast, annual summer fires reduced wax myrtle cover and sprouting vigor, eventually eliminating it. Lotti [27] documented 100 percent mortality after as few as three successive annual summer fires. Fire response may be site dependant as well. A single fire on an eastern Texas slash pine stand caused a steady decline in southern bayberry for 3 years [24]. On wet everglades sites (sawgrass, marl prairie, mixed hardwood swamp), drainage coupled with frequent burning favors wax myrtle invasion [18,40,47]. On drier savannas, fire suppression favors wax myrtle invasion [5,6]. On eastern Texas longleaf pine savannas, wax myrtle control required fires every 5 years [6]. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Lotti [28] recommended four successive annual fires or three successive biannual summer fires to achieve a cumulative wax myrtle mortality of about 90 percent. Winter fires are less effective than summer fires for wax myrtle control and may be used when management goals call for wax myrtle enhancement [28,44]. Winter fires can be used for control if done frequently. When wax myrtle invasion is undesirable, fires should be annual for the first several years, then become less frequent as wax myrtle cover decreases. Such a prescription may be combined with grazing for control and maintenance at a level where wax myrtle provides livestock forage [26,45]. On nitrogen-poor sites, managers should be cautious about southern bayberry control. Annual fires greatly reduce wax myrtle density, minimizing its nitrogen-fixing contribution [42]. Dry fuel weights can be predicted from basal stem diameters for southern bayberry. Refer to Reeves and Lenhart [39] for fuel load calculations.

REFERENCES

SPECIES: Morella cerifera
REFERENCES: 1. Abrahamson, Warren G. 1984. Post-fire recovery of Florida Lake Wales Ridge vegetation. American Journal of Botany. 71(1): 9-21. [9509] 2. Abrahamson, Warren G. 1984. Species response to fire on the Florida Lake Wales Ridge. American Journal of Botany. 71(1): 35-43. [9608] 3. Boyer, W. D. 1990. Pinus palustris Mill. longleaf pine. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 405-412. [13398] 4. Bramlett, David L. 1990. Pinus serotina Michx. pond pine. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 1. Conifers. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 470-475. [13407] 5. Bridges, Edwin L.; Orzell, Steve L. 1989. Longleaf pine communities of the west Gulf Coastal Plain. Natural Areas Journal. 9(4): 246-263. [10091] 6. Christensen, Norman L. 1981. Fire regimes in southeastern ecosystems. In: Mooney, H. A.; Bonnicksen, T. M.; Christensen, N. L.; [and others], technical coordinators. Fire regimes and ecosystem properties: Proceedings of the conference; 1978 December 11-15; Honolulu, HI. Gen. Tech. Rep. WO-26. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 112-136. [4391] 7. Clary, Warren P. 1979. Grazing and overstory effects on rotationally burned slash pine plantation ranges. Journal of Range Management. 32(4): 264-266. [9657] 8. Clewell, Andre F. 1985. Guide to the vascular plants of the Florida Panhandle. Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University Press. 605 p. [13124] 9. Davison, Kathryn L.; Bratton, Susan P. 1988. Vegetation response and regrowth after fire on Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia. Castanea. 53(1): 47-65. [4483] 10. Duncan, Wilbur H.; Duncan, Marion B. 1988. Trees of the southeastern United States. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press. 322 p. 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On file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Lab, Missoula, MT. [1348] 24. Lay, Daniel W. 1956. Effects of prescribed burning on forage and mast production in southern pine forests. Journal of Forestry. 54: 582-584. [13828] 25. Lay, Daniel W. 1957. Browse quality and the effects of prescribed burning in southern pine forests. Journal of Forestry. 55: 342-347. [7633] 26. Little, Elbert L., Jr. 1979. Checklist of United States trees (native and naturalized). Agric. Handb. 541. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 375 p. [2952] 27. Lotti, Thomas. 1955. Summer fires kill understory hardwoods. Res. Notes Number 71. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station. 3 p. [11615] 28. Lotti, Thomas. 1959. The use of fire in the management of Coastal Plain loblolly pine. 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Monk, Carl D.; Brown, Timothy W. 1965. Ecological consideration of cypress heads in north-central Florida. American Midland Naturalist. 74: 126-140. [10848] 34. Oosting, Henry J. 1954. Ecological processes and vegetation of the maritime strand in the southeastern United States. Botanical Review. 20: 226-262. [10730] 35. Pearson, H. A.; Whitaker, L. B.; Duvall, V. L. 1971. Slash pine regeneration under regulated grazing. Journal of Forestry. 69: 744-746. [13830] 36. Pearson, Henry A.; Grelen, Harold E.; Parresol, Bernie R.; Wright, Vernon L. 1987. Detailed vegetative description of the longleaf-slash pine type, Vernon District, Kisatchie National Forest, Louisiana. In: Pearson, Henry A.; Smeins, Fred E.; Thill, Ronald E., compilers. Ecological, physical, and socioeconomic relationships within southern National Forests: Proceedings of the southern evaluation project workshop; 1987 May 26-27; Long Beach, MS. Gen. Tech. Rep. SO-68. 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