Bayberry

Myrica Pensylvania (Bayberry) fruit Hillside

Myrica Pensylvania (Bayberry) fruit Hillside

Myrica pensylvanica

Bayberry shrubs are not at all fussy about the ground in which they grow, as long as the soil is well-drained. They thrive in poor soils where other plants have difficulty because they are nitrogen fixers. As nitrogen fixers they produce fertilizer for themselves helping the plant to grow and compete with other plants.

Myrica comes from the Greek word meaning fragrance. Native Americans taught colonists to make candles from bayberry drupe wax, drupe being the fruit of the bayberry. It takes 1 and ½ quarts of bayberries to make a single candle. By boiling the berries, the wax can be skimmed off. Compare the sweet smell of the bayberry candle to the typical Colonial candle made from rancid fat.

Because of the resin in their branches and the strong smell of their leaves, these bushes are deer resistant; the smell also seems to keep insect pests at bay. The berries, while not a preferred choice for most birds (their waxiness may not be palatable),  serve as an emergency food source.

You will find a stand of bayberry shrubs on the far side of the path behind the Conservatory. If you turn left at the bottom of the steps that go to the Rose Maze, you will notice  new sprouts of bayberry shrubs along the hillside. Shrubs tend to sucker and may form sizable colonies in good growing conditions.