Saturday, January 19, 2008

Myrica californica

If I had a small yard on the north coast and was allowed only one native tree, it would be the Pacific wax myrtle, Myrica californica.

It’s a small, fast-growing evergeen with shiny bright foliage. And is incredibly versatile. I’ve seen it grown as a specimen tree, as a shrub, and cut as a hedge. It likes partial-shade or full sun, and the ample moisture it receives here on the coast.

As a landscape tree at a Big Lagoon cabin.

Cut (and shaped by the wind) as part of a mixed hedge. The brightest green is Myrica californica.

In the wild especially, I’ve seen many old trees that twist about like Chinese dragons. In fact we have a couple of such trees growing in the Bayside family redwood forest. The wax myrtle, along with the shore pine and the willows, is also a common species of the dune forest.

If your tree, like the one below, was pummeled by falling Sitka spruces in a coastal storm and is holding onto anything for support, I recommend chopping it down. They’ll shoot back with a vengeance.

Besides its beauty and utility, the Pacific Wax Myrtle is great for wildlife. It is commonly recommended as one of the best plants for birds in my area. (Pines and willows definitely make the list too). Birds love the tiny purplish fruits.

Sadly, unlike other Myrica species, the fruit of Myrica californica reportedly does not yield enough wax to make candles. And while we’re on the subject of burning, I’m not sure how well it burns as firewood either. We cut down part of one by the cabin last year, and I just split the wood, so we’ll find out.

And I suppose for those who need flowers, I should mention that the wax myrtle’s are tiny and inconspicuous.

But if you want a reliable year-round spot of bright green in your coastal garden, decorated with birds instead of bright flowers and berries, give the wax myrtle a try.


chuck b. said...

And it handles pollution well so good in cities, and i hear it's planted on freeways although I've never seen that.

And it's fragrant too.

Gardener of La Mancha said...

Thanks, Chuck. I didn't know about its tolerance of pollution, though I do see it along the 101. And I forget that it's fragrant because I have an extremely poor sense of smell. Very sad (most of the time, anyway).