The Northern Bayberry is a member of the Myrica, a genus of about thirty five to fifty species of small trees and shrubs that are native to the eastern areas of North America from Newfoundland west to Ontario and Ohio and as far south as North Carolina. The scientific classification for the Northern Bayberry is Myrica pensylvanica.
The Northern Bayberry is a deciduous plant which means is from a species that falls off at maturity such as leaves falling from trees with the changing seasons. The tree is 2-4.5m tall with leaves that are 2.5-7cm in length and 1.5-2.7 cm wide. The leaf is at its widest near the leaf apex. The leaf is serrated and is sticky with a spicy scent when it is crushed.
The flowers of the Northern Bayberry are called catkins (slim cylindrical flowers that cluster and have little, to no petals.) They are usually green or red and are from three to eighteen mm in length.
The Northern Bayberry’s fruit is a wrinkled berry that is 3.5-5mm in diameter. They have a pale blue purple coloring with a waxy coating. The Yellow rumped Warbler uses these berries as an important part of their diet. The berries can be used to make bayberry wax candles. During the time of the Early American colonies this berry was boiled in order to extract the wax with its sweet smell to use for candles that were clean burning. The leaves of the Northern Bayberry plant are used to make several scented products such as bayberry oil which is slightly toxic. It contains a high eugenol (an oily chemical compound) content.
This species has root nodules that contain nitrogen fixing (natural process by which nitrogen is converted to ammonia) properties.
The Northern Bayberry species can hybridize with the wax myrtle in areas where their ranges overlap. The seedling of this plant are very tolerant to drought conditions but can not survive in high water or flood areas. It is a dioecious plant which means it has both female and males parts on separate plants and is pollinated by the wind. Birds eat the seeds and later disperse them after they pass through their body..
On the coastal sand dunes of Nag’s Head in North Carolina the Northen Bayberry is a codominat species and it is also dominant in orther areas of the United States.
This plant prefers to grow in swamps, headland, bogs, damp woods, beaches, cleared roadsides, sand flats, dry hills, dunes and gravel pits. It is considered a marginal species, meaning it can survive in both wet and dry climates. The Northern Bayberry is a hardy versitile plant.