of winter’s native evergreens — wax myrtle — is a
stunning shrub in the garden any season of the year.
myrtle, botanically called Morella cerifera (formerly
Myrica cerifera), is a fuss-free large shrub or small
tree with a good personality. It’s always green,
aromatic and attractive along shorelines and wetlands.
In home gardens, it works as a privacy hedge along a
property line, providing songbirds with predator
protection, nesting sites and food sources.
it smells good when you walk near it or crush its
native evergreen has soft, olive-green foliage with a
spicy odor that repels insects and deer usually avoid
leaves with strong fragrances," says Helen
Hamilton, past president of the John Clayton Chapter,
Virginia Native Plant Society, and retired biology
teacher living in Williamsburg, Va. She co-wrote
"Wildflowers and Grasses of Virginia’s Coastal
Plain" (http://wildflowersofvirginia.com). Learn
more about the native plant society at www.vnps.org.
are lance-shaped and soft, a nice contrast with other
leathery, spiky and spiny winter shrubs, she adds. Wax
myrtle grows quickly and can form good screening and
hedges. It will quickly become a small tree, but growth
can be controlled with pruning to encourage dense
foliage and a rounded shape.
plant likes any kind of habitat — sun or shade — but
it prefers good drainage and slightly acidic soils. Wax
myrtle grows wild in southeastern states in pine woods,
swamps, and bog, and in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont
of Virginia, according to Hamilton.
myrtle’s good personality stretches even further,
tolerating drought, sand, sun and salt spray. It’s
perfect planted near brackish water and on beaches.
Garden centers sell the native species, as well as
April tiny flowers appear on both male and female trees,
before new leaves, but the female trees produce fruits
in late summer and early fall. In winter, the seeds are
important foods for Carolina wrens and tree sparrows.
settlers boiled the berries, allowed the liquid to cool
and collected the floating wax to make into bayberry
candles, adds Hamilton.
legumes, wax myrtle roots carry nodules of bacteria that
change atmospheric nitrogen to mineral form. The plant
grows in poor soil, but in several years the soil turns
fertile, she continues.
(yellow-rumped) warblers are aptly named because they
frequent the shrubs, according to Hamilton.
are winter residents in our area, able to survive on the
fruits of juniper, poison ivy, and these
bayberries," she says.
has given them a large long-term advantage over most of
our other warblers and many other birds that make
increasingly perilous journeys to winter in the tropics,
where there is massive habitat destruction."
warblers, nicknamed myrtle warblers, are active little
birds in southeastern yards during winter, according to
they chirp from shrubs and trees, the yellow patch
flashing on their backside makes them easy to
spot," she says.
are duller and browner, but both sexes can be recognized
by their flashes of black, white and yellow. Bill
Williams, author of "The Birds of Virginia’s
Colonial Historic Triangle" calls them
"butter-butts," she continues.
they perch on the outer limbs of trees, flying out after
insects, twisting and turning, and often catching their
prey on the wing. This is when the yellow rump patch is
most visible. In winter the birds enjoy sunflower seeds
and suet at home bird feeders, and feed on fruits of
juniper, poison ivy and wax myrtles."
are a migrant and winter resident along the East Coast
from early October to mid-April, according to Brian
Taber, president of the Coastal Virginia Wildlife
Observatory (www.cvwo.org). There are two subspecies —
the "myrtle warbler" in southeastern states
and the "Audubon warbler" in western
mountains. The myrtle warbler breeds in Canada and
northeastern United States, migrating to southeastern
states, Central America and the Caribbean for winter. As
they fly north in spring, their winter tones turn to
vivid black, charcoal gray, bright white and yellow.