Myrica gale, commonly known as bayberry, and also known as sweet gale, wax myrtle, bay-rum tree and candleberry can frequently be found along the shoreline of our Forested Wetlands as well as down on the left side of our launch site. Its scientific name is derived from “myrike” in Greek meaning “fragrant”. Bayberry is a pleasantly aromatic fruit-bearing shrub whose genus is widely distributed on every continent except Australia and Antartica, preferring sandy acidic soil and native to many coastal regions, such as our Eastern Coastal zone, which we reside in.
Its growth varies between 1meter tall shrubs and 20meter tall trees, but is on average 1.5 – 2 meters in height. Leaves are dark green in color and leather like in texture, whose fruit is a bluish-grey color. Its simple shaped leaves are arranged with an oblanceolate leaf structure, meaning that the leaves are longer than wide, with the widest part being near the tip, with a fine tooth margin down the center of the leaf running laterally. The roots of bayberry have nitrogen fixing bacteria which allow the plant to grow in soil with low nitrogen levels. The flowers on this plant are called catkins, meaning a slim cylindrical flower cluster with no petals and are mainly wind pollinated. Bayberry has a small stone fruit, or small indehiscent drupe. Indehiscence refers to the plant not naturally splitting open to release its contents, but rather relies on other mechanisms such as decomposition or predation. The wax coating on the leaves is typically unable to be digested by most birds, however tree swallows and yellow-rumped warblers have adapted to be able to digest the wax coating, which provides a high energy source for the birds. Bayberry serves several uses. The wax coating is used in candle making, foliage has been used as an insect repellant, and the aromatic branches have been used for residential decorations such as door wreaths and fire mantle displays. Due to the fact that this plant is nitrogen fixing, it is extremely helpful for re-vegetation efforts aiding in natural selection and conservation efforts. The powder form of the bark aids in medicinal use as well, being used such as an astringent, stimulant and emetic.
Keep your eyes open for this fragrant shrub along our forested wetlands. You can also join in on one of our Guided Eco tours offered daily at 9am and 1pm, where one of our guides would be happy to point out this magnificent plant to you, along with many other wonderful flora and fauna we have residing in our quiet world of abundant natural beauty. Hope to see you out for a paddle soon!
Reporting by: Rebecca Hardy