Myrtle Plant


Our Myrtle is grown as a baby standard. Tiny aromatic evergreen leaves with sweetly scented delicate five-petalled white flowers with tufts of fluffy stamens appearing in late summer and autumn.
Followed by aromatic purple-black berries which are used to make a syrup in Italy where it grows wild. The little leaves can be used in cooking.

The cultivated myrtle needs to be trimmed to keep its round mop head. This is best done in spring but it can be allowed to grow into a more bushy shape which is very attractive. Good in pots, myrtle are quite fussy and need attention but it is well worth it being such a charming little plant. It is not fully hardy and needs good protection in a conservatory or greenhouse in the cold months while preferring to be outside in a protected position during the summer. It likes sun (will tolerate partial shade) and fertile well-drained soil. Height in maturity, 60cm x 35cm / 2ft x 1ft.

Common Name: Myrtle
Latin Name: Myrtus communis – tarentina
Soil: Fertile, well-drained soil
Habit: Bushy
Position: Preferably sun or partial shade
Flowering period: Late summer / autumn
Colour: White
Hardiness: Non hardy
Eventual Height/Spread: 60cm x 35cm / 2ft x 1ft
Special features: Evergreen, aromatic

History Symbolism, Folklore & Old Wives Tales
Sacred to the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite. Together with her son Cupid she helped many lovers’ wishes come true. Roses, Poppies & Myrtle were her favourite plants, hence the tradition of roses on Valentine’s Day. Myrtle is proof of love to last for many years to come. It is an emblem of love, laughter and joy.

Myrtle is grown mainly in hot countries. The berries are often eaten raw (not recommended), made into syrups or in tarts and jams or dried. The jam has an aromatic flavour which goes well with savoury dishes. In the Mediterranean, the dried fruit and flower buds are used as a spice. The syrup is often used in slow cooking of meat.
Myrtle Jam: 1 kg/2lbs myrtle berries & 1kg/2lb sugar – Makes approx 2kg/4lbs of jam
Wash the berries and prick them with a darning needle. Simmer gently until soft with just enough water to prevent them burning. Add the sugar and bring to the boil. Then bottle in warm sterilised jars and seal.
One would need a lot of myrtle berries so it might be more practical to halve the ingredients.Even so they may not produce enough berries in Britain.

myrtle common

I recently planted a mytus communis which is losing its leaves, they’re curling and drying up. It’s near another established plant which is successfully growing. What might be wrong?

the don from del monty


Hello, This may either be a reaction to the unusually cold weather as these plants are not fully hardy – and the more established plant will have a better chance of survival, or it could be that the larger plant is taking up all the available water.



I have a variagated myrtle which I would like to move as it’s being hidden by other plants now. What’s the best time to move it, now in autumn or spring.? Also would it tolerate really hot sun or partial shade? thanks



Hello there Evergreen plants can be moved in October or late March when not freezing. Myrtles are not fully hardy so I would wait until the spring. These plants are sun lovers so definitely plant it in full sun, but make sure that you keep it watered while it is establishing. Hope this helps

2015-10-28 Could you tell me if I grow my Myrtle in a large pot (how large please?) will I be able to prune the plant and is it a slow growing plant? Thank you.

Happy Gardener


Hello there If you are wanting to grow a myrtus in a pot then I would grow Myrtus communis subsp.tarentina, which is a more compact, rounded variety and is better suited for a container. These plants are slowgrowing, and need very little pruning but you can lightly prune in late spring. Hope this helps.

2014-05-15 Dear Bernadette – hope you can help. My mature myrtle has developed pale brown round marks edged by a dark brown ring, and other dark brown markings (some spots, some just blobs). The marks only show faintly on the reverse of the leaf and they are flat, not raised, so I don’t know if it could be a scale insect of some kind. It flowers and fruits well, faces west and has a lot of wind to contend with. I pull off the infected leaves but it’s a big bush – is there a (preferably organic) spray I can use? or does it just need a) thinning out so more air can circulate or b) more water on the leaves? thank you



Hello, I suspect your myrtle is suffering from fungal leaf spot. This is a widespread and not terribly serious problem (particularly on mature plants), but it is unsightly. It is usually and indication that the plant is stressed in some way, so ideally you should try to improve the growing conditions if you can. We do have more details about this problem on our site, so please just click on the link below to go straight to the relevant page. I hope this helps,



Plants suitable for patio pots Hello I wanted to enquire if you have a Sarocococca hookeriana var. humilis, I looked online but it’s not listed. I am askng for that particular plant, because I only have a patio and want plants that won’t grow to an enormous size or require spectacular care. A rosemary and a dwarf syringa I bought from you are doing very well. Plants always arrive in very good condition which I really appreciate. A Myrtus communis subsp. ‘Tarentina’ which I potted up immediately in a larger pot suffered shock I think, – I wonder what you know about this myrtle? I am wanting to grow plants on a small patio in containers and wonder if the following plants are suitable:- Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis (if you have got it) or a Sarcococca hookeriana digyna (which is in your listings). Winter Jasmine, or any of the other Jasmines, Wintersweet, Witchhazel, Abelia grandiflora but would this be too large for my patio- I am thinking of winter cheer with its red berries, and Nandina Domestica. Many thanks Bernadette

Bernadette Matthews


Hello Bernadette, I’m afraid we do not sell Sacrocococca hookeriana var. humilis, but the other two we list will be fine in a large pot as long as they are kept well fed and watered. It is my experience that most plants will cope if the pot is big enough and they are well looked after, however larger plants like the Jasminum nudiflorum, Wintersweet, Witchhazel, Abelia or Nandinas will eventually run out of steam and need to be placed into the garden. You should however be able to get a good few years from them. As for the Myrtus, I have not heard that they particularly dislike being moved, but as they are not fully hardy they need protection in winter. I hope this helps. Helen Plant Doctor


Crocus Helpdesk

Which plants are Deer proof? I want a list of Deer proof plants please. It`s either a change in habitat or environment, but I get total devastation now and in the last two years they come up the drive.



Deer can be a real problem and deer proof plants are usually thorny, poisonous or simply taste awful, but it is hard to give a definitive list as you might get the odd deer with unusual tastes which might like the bitter taste! Below is a list of good plants that generally are quite successful though. Cornus varieties, Rhus, Sophora, Solanum, Berberis, Rosemary, Buxus, Cotoneaster, Ilex, Pyracantha, Garrya, Juniperus, Nandina, Elaeagnus, Aralia, Aucuba, Cortaderia, Yucca, Santolina, Hypericum, Myrtle, Vinca, Achillea, Digitalis, Echinacea and Dryopteris. Finally, fencing is one method to protect garden crops from deer. Since deer jump, you need an 8-foot fence for best results or stout chicken-wire fencing securely around smaller garden plots. Alternatively, fence the area with a thorny shrub, preferably something that will grow to at least 6 feet. Deer eat roses and some thorns but hawthorn, boxwood and holly will exclude them. Deer are also deterred by dogs, hanging aluminum foil, mirrors, wood that hits objects in the wind and other noise-makers. Some old-fashioned repellents are human hair and blood and bonemeal. Hanging bars of fragrant deodorant soap from branches may work. Other well-known deer repellents are mothballs or moth flakes spread on the ground or put in mesh bags for hanging in a tree. Unfortunately though, no repellent is 100 percent effective, especially if the deer population is high and deer are starving.



What can I plant that the deers won’t eat? What types of plants do deer not like? If you could help me out I could greatly appreciate it.

Kelly L. Sliker


Deer can be a real problem and deer proof plants are usually thorny, poisonous or simply taste awful. It is hard to give a definitive list as you might get the odd deer with unusual taste which might like a bitter taste, but the following is a list of plants that generally are quite successful. Cornus varieties, Rhus, Sophora, Solanum, Berberis, Rosemary, Buxus, Cotoneaster, Ilex, Pyracantha, Garrya, Juniperus, Nandina, Eleagnus, Aralia, Aucuba, Cortaderia, Yucca, Santolina, Hypericum, Myrtle, Vinca, Achillea, Digitalis, Echinacea and Dryopteris. Finally fencing is one method to protect garden crops from deer. Since deer jump, you need an 8-foot fence for best results or stout chicken-wire fencing securely around smaller garden plots. Alternatively, fence the area with a thorny shrub, preferably something that will grow to at least 6 feet. Deer do eat roses and some other thorns but hawthorn, boxwood and holly tend to keep them out. Deer are also deterred by dogs, hanging aluminum foil, mirrors, wood that hits objects in the wind and other noise-makers. Some old-fashioned repellents are human hair and blood and bonemeal. Hanging bars of fragrant deodorant soap from branches may work. Other well-known deer repellents are mothballs or moth flakes spread on the ground or put in mesh bags for hanging in a tree. Unfortunately though, no repellent is 100 percent effective, especially if the deer population is high and deer are starving.



Creeping Myrtle

Creeping Myrtle- Vinca Minor For Sale Affordable Grower Direct Prices Tennessee Wholesale Nursery

Creeping Myrtle – Vinca Minor is a rapidly growing evergreen runner. It produces blue, star-like flowers about one-inch in width, which bloom for only one month in the spring. Creeping myrtle gets its name from the ability to sneak across the ground at an ever-expanding pace.

Creeping myrtle makes a beautiful addition to any home. Notable for its capacity to take root anywhere that a stem touches ground, this plant continues to grow until the season ends. If it is cut back to four inches in early spring, new growth will be rapidly stimulated. Typically this plant grows from 4 – 8 inches, but many variations can increase from 6 -12 inches in height. This vining plant is famous for ground cover since it propagates quickly and is usually drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. It is also planted a lot around trees and shady flower beds. Even after it has finished blooming for the year, it stays a lovely green for year-round coverage.

Buy Fast Growing Creeping myrtle

In the spring, creeping myrtle is one of the first vines to bloom. The creeping myrtle has a profusion of small, periwinkle flowers that come in various shades of purple or white. Rabbits usually avoid eating their blossoms. Creeping myrtle is also perfect for hillsides to add beauty and to discourage erosion. Creeping myrtle is a plant that takes up a lot of room. It is ideal for areas that have open spaces. This is a plant that is great for yards where other flowers won’t grow. Fast growing, this plant will take root and spread over the area in no time. It has a lavender flower that contrasts well with the dark green leaves.

Creeping myrtle blooms in the spring and summer, making it an excellent plant to blend with daisies and daffodils. There is little care involved with this plant. Only water it every few days, and make sure you keep the undergrowth cut out so that it looks healthy.

Scientific Name: Vinca Minor

USDA Climate Zone: 4 – 9

Tree Height: 6 – 12 inch

Canopy Spread: Running flowering vine, continuous fast growth

Soil Type: Prefers dry to medium soil

Sun: Prefers Full Sun to Partial Shade

Plants & Flowers

Common name: Common Myrtle, True Myrtle, Bride’s Myrtle, Roman Myrtle, Sweet Myrtle., Sweet Roman Myrtle, True Roman Myrtle

Family: Myrtaceae

Synonymous: Myrtus acuta
Myrtus acutifolia
Myrtus angustifolia
Myrtus augustini
Myrtus aurantiifolia
Myrtus baetica
Myrtus baetica var. vidalii
Myrtus baui
Myrtus belgica
Myrtus borbonis
Myrtus briquetii
Myrtus christinae
Myrtus communis var. acutifolia
Myrtus eusebii
Myrtus gervasii
Myrtus italica
Myrtus josephi
Myrtus lanceolata
Myrtus latifolia
Myrtus littoralis
Myrtus macrophylla
Myrtus major
Myrtus media
Myrtus microphylla
Myrtus minima
Myrtus minor
Myrtus mirifolia
Myrtus oerstedeana
Myrtus petri-ludovici
Myrtus rodesi
Myrtus romana
Myrtus romanifolia
Myrtus sparsifolia
Myrtus theodori
Myrtus veneris
Myrtus vidalii

Myrtus communis

Distribution and habitat: Myrtus communis is native across the northern Mediterranean region. It is a common and widespread shrub and the sole representative of the Myrtaceae in the Mediterranean Basin. It is typically found in Maquis shrubland together with other low-growing shrubs which have been developed after the clearing of the primary woods of the Mediterranean in the lower mountain environments.
Thought to originate from Iran and Afghanistan, Myrtus communis has been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region since the beginning of recorded history. The species type develops an irregular upright oval form, eventually becoming a small tree 4 to 4.5m (12-15 feet) tall in old age; plants are often shorn to maintain a lower profile, say under 1.5 or 2m (5-6 feet); overall plants are fine textured and are reminiscent of the Common Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) in form.

Description: Myrtus communis is an evergreen shrub or small tree, growing 4.5m (15 feet) tall in its native habitat, but usually only 60-90cm (24-35 inch) high indoors. This species is a branching shrub with densely crowded, pointed-oval leaves, which are dark green, shiny and fragrant when crushed. The scented flowers have a diameter of about 1-2cm (0.4-0.8 inch) and are composed of a mass of yellow stamens concealing five small, white or pale pink petals. The flowers are normally produced singly on short flower stalks in late summer.

Proper care: Myrtus communis are the most commonly plants of this genus grown as indoor plants. These small shrubs can be easily kept in shape by judicious pruning, which should be done only when strong growing shoots that might otherwise spoil a plant’s symmetry have become apparent. Too much heavy pruning will reduce the likelihood of flowers, but a certain amount of regular pinching out of growing tips is essential for building up healthy, dense growth.

Light: Provide Myrtus communis with the brightest possible light at all time. If these plants are placed more than 30-60cm (12-24 inch) away from a fully sunlit window, they become spindly. Turn the plants regularly in order to avoid lop-sided growth and provide airy conditions when they are cultivated indoors.

Temperature: Although Myrtus communis prefers relatively cool conditions, it grow well in normal room temperature. If possible, however, give this plant a winter rest period at about 7°C (45°F). Otherwise, the relatively warm, dry air will make the leaves to fall. Fresh air during active growth period will toughen up growth, so these plants may be stood in a sunny position outdoors throughout the summer. They should be gradually accustomed to sunlight because the leaves are not used to ultraviolet rays after spending winter indoors. Also the root ball should not be exposed to direct sunlight.

Watering: During the active growth period water plentifully. During the rest period water moderately, giving enough to make the potting mixture moist throughout at each watering but letting the top few centimetres (0.8 inch) of the mixture dry out before watering again. If at all possible, use rainwater or some other calcium-free water.

Feeding: Do not feed these plants until they have been lodged in same pot for more than three months. Thereafter, apply to Myrtus communis plants standard liquid fertiliser about once every two weeks during the active growth period only.

Potting and repotting: Use a soil based potting mixture with addition of one third portion of leaf mould or peat moss. The basic mixture should be lime-free, because myrtus species do best in neutral or slightly acid medium. As plant get bigger, move them into increasingly larger pots, one size at a time. This is best done just as new growth is starting in the spring. Young specimens should be repotted every 1 to 2 years, older plants every 3 to 4 years. It is important to pack the potting mixture firmly around the roots and to set these plants at the same level in successive pots – never deeper than before. Once a Myrtus communis is lodged in a pot of maximum convenient size – about 18-20cm (7-8 inch) – simply top dress each spring.

Gardening: Myrtus communis species does not succeed outdoors in the colder parts of the world. When fully dormant Myrtus communis is hardy to between -10 and -15°C (14-5°F) as long as it is sheltered from cold drying winds, though it does withstand quite considerable maritime exposure. The young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts.
Myrtus communis is a moderately fast-growing plant when young but soon slowing with age. Overall, the growth is moderate to fairly slow, particularly on the compact cultivars. The plant is very tolerant of regular clipping and can be grown as a hedge. Any pruning is best carried out in the spring.

Position: Locate Myrtus communis plants in full sun to light shade. These plants are heat, drought and salt tolerant; avoid exposure to winds to reduce winter injury.
They cannot grow in the shade.

Soil: Myrtus communis succeeds in any reasonably good soil so long as it is well-drained. It prefers a moderately fertile well-drained neutral to alkaline loam.

Irrigation: Myrtus communis plants are intolerant of poorly drained soils and high humidity, so they are often planted in raised beds or containers. Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. Established plants do well with one deep irrigation each month in summer. Shallow, frequent irrigation may cause plants to turn yellow.

Fertilising: Needs little or no fertilizer. Eventually, use a general purpose fertiliser before new growth begins in spring.

Propagation: Cuttings with a short heel (meaning with a little of the old bark attached) are normally used for propagating these plants. The process require patience, since rooting may take six to eight weeks. Inset several cuttings together around the rim of an 8cm (3 inch) pot containing a moistened rooting mixture and enclose the whole in a plastic bag or propagating case. Keep it in medium light – at a slight shaded window for instance – at a temperature of about 15°C (59°F). When new top growth appears, move each rooted cuttings individually into 8cm (3 inch) pots of the recommended potting mixture for adult plants. Thereafter, treat the new specimens as mature plant.

Myrtus communis is prone to infestation by scale insects and subsequently sooty mold may develop; root rots occur on wet soils; thrips and spider mites can attach in hot weather.

Toxicity: The essential oil contained in the leaves of Myrtus communis plants is slightly toxic. It may cause headaches, nausea, indigestion, and may colour urine purple if consumed in larger quantities (above 10 ml).

Recommended varieties:
Myrtus communis cv. ‘Boetica’ (Twisted Myrtle or Desert Myrtle) has leaves about 2-3cm (0.8-1 inch) long which have a pronounced fragrance.

Myrtus communis var. microphylla (Dwarf Myrtle) grows no taller than about 60cm and bears leaves less than 2.5cm (1 inch) long. Myrtus communis microphylla can be pruned and trained into practically any shape.

Myrtus communis subsp. tarentina is compact and its 2cm (0.8 inch) long leaves are usually tough. More compact and rounded than the species plant, it is a great choice for a sheltered, sunny spot in the garden.

Myrtus communis cv. ‘Variegata’ has sharply pointed green leaves bordered with creamy white.

Uses and display: Myrtus communis is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant for use as a shrub in gardens and parks. Formal sheared hedges are the principle use for the species; old specimens can be limbed up into small trees. Myrtus communis is excellent for hedges, screens, patio planters and pots or for providing a dark green background for perennial or annual color plantings. It is a classic for Mediterranean gardens and historic, period, scent or educational gardens; compact forms are a favorite for knot garden borders. This plant is a favorite of coastal landscapers and works as a bonsai. It takes pruning well and is suitable for topiaries. When trimmed less frequently, it has numerous flowers in late summer. It requires a long hot summer to produce its flowers and protection from winter frosts.
Myrtus communis is often cultivated in the Mediterranean, where the plant is regarded as a symbol of love and peace and is much prized for use in wedding bouquets.
An essential oil from the bark, leaves and flowers is used in perfumery, soaps and skin-care products. An average yield of 10g of oil is obtained from 100 kilos of leaves.


Foliage – green
Features – flowers and fragrance
Shape – bushy
Height outdoor: 4.5m (15 feet)
Height indoor: 60-90cm (24-35 inch)

Watering in rest period – moderately
Watering in active growth period – plentifully
Light – direct
Temperature in rest period – min 7°C max 16°C (45-61°F)
Temperature in active growth period – min 13°C max 24°C (55-75°F)
Humidity – high

Hardiness zone: 8b-11

Cutting Flowers, Garden Plants, Indoor Plants, Shrubs Bride’s Myrtle, Common Myrtle, Desert Myrtle, Dwarf Myrtle, Myrtus acuta, Myrtus acutifolia, Myrtus angustifolia, Myrtus augustini, Myrtus aurantiifolia, Myrtus baetica, Myrtus baetica var. vidalii, Myrtus baui, Myrtus belgica, Myrtus borbonis, Myrtus briquetii, Myrtus christinae, Myrtus communis, Myrtus communis Boetica, Myrtus communis microphylla, Myrtus communis tarentina, Myrtus communis var. acutifolia, Myrtus communis Variegata, Myrtus eusebii, Myrtus gervasii, Myrtus italica, Myrtus josephi, Myrtus lanceolata, Myrtus latifolia, Myrtus littoralis, Myrtus macrophylla, Myrtus major, Myrtus media, Myrtus microphylla, Myrtus minima, Myrtus minor, Myrtus mirifolia, Myrtus oerstedeana, Myrtus petri-ludovici, Myrtus rodesi, Myrtus romana, Myrtus romanifolia, Myrtus sparsifolia, Myrtus theodori, Myrtus veneris, Myrtus vidalii, Roman Myrtle, Sweet Myrtle., Sweet Roman Myrtle, True Myrtle, True Roman Myrtle, Twisted Myrtle

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Dwarf Myrtle is a very tough plant that requires little to no pruning to maintain its dense compact form, if you desire it to be the size it will naturally grow to. Most often it is used in the landscape as a hedge or clipped shrub, which can be sheared as needed any time of year (D). It is best to shear consistently, so that cutting is always done into the portion of branches with leaves below it, for best appearance, although plants have no problems if cut back to smaller branches below leaves (they just look bare until they regrow). If hedges or clipped shrubs are pruned back to the exact same point every time, they will eventually develop woody growth at the cut points that will eventually need to be pruned out. To avoid this, try to cut back to a slightly different spot each time while maintaining the same overall look. Pruning a small, residential scale, low hedge, can normal be more attractively done with a nice sharp pair of manual hedge shears rather than a more dangerous, bulky, and easier to lose control of electric or gas trimmer. For hedges, to ensure the lower branches to not get shaded out over time by the upper branches and die, it is best to slightly taper the vertical edge of the hedge so the top part of the hedge is cut slightly further back from the bottom part. This will make sure the lower part of the hedge maintains good sunlight exposure (S).

Myrtle: How to grow

When crushed, myrtle leaves exude a soft eucalyptus aroma reminiscent of the Australian gum. Indeed, the two are closely related. Myrtle does not appear to have a medicinal use like eucalyptus, but the leaves are dried for potpourris and used to flavour pork and game dishes.

Usefully, they keep their rich, emerald green colour when dried. On hot summer days there is often a very slight aromatic scent as you brush past the leaves, so place your plant close to a door or path whenever you can.

The Greeks and the Romans held this elegant evergreen in special regard. It was the sacred herb of Aphrodite; her Roman alter ego, Venus, wore a myrtle wreath and is often depicted rising from the sea with a sprig of myrtle. As a result, all over the Mediterranean mature myrtles can be found planted close to temples dedicated to the goddess of love.

The plant is also thought to have aphrodisiac qualities and it is traditional to use myrtle in bridal bouquets. But this may be because it produces vestal-white flowers in July and August, when many brides marry. The fragrant flowers, though small, are packed with a mass of gold-tipped stamens that gleam in full sun. So it’s not surprising that myrtle is associated with the Virgin Mary, or that it was a Victorian symbol of love and constancy.

The variegated form (Myrtus communis ‘Variegata’) has pink-tinged flowers and silver-green leaves and it shines and sparkles in winter and summer sun. A more compact form with smaller leaves, Myrtus communis subsp. tarentina, is sometimes used for low hedges; there is also a cream-edged form of this.

How to Grow

For the best results, plant myrtle outdoors in late spring in a well-drained, sheltered position. This gives it the best chance of establishing lots of root before winter weather sets in.

You can also grow myrtle in a container in soil-based compost. Water and feed with a potash-rich tomato food during the growing season.

The potash will encourage more flower and also harden the wood. Ease off watering from late August onwards, and then dry off almost completely before over-wintering the container. The shelter of a warm wall under the eaves of the house is a perfect place.


Take semi-ripe cuttings in summer as an insurance policy against loss. Look for new growth that has started to firm up and choose non-flowering shoots if possible (otherwise remove the buds). Take off some of the lower leaves and trim below the node with a sharp knife or scissors. Plunge the cuttings into horticultural sand, or a 50 per cent mixture of sand and compost, and place out of direct sunlight.

Cuttings should root within six to 12 weeks. Pot up individually in gritty compost and overwinter in a sheltered, frost-free place until the following spring. You can either keep the young plants in pots for another year, or plant them out. But they will need both protection from winter squalls and careful nurturing through dry springs.

Good Companions

The black strappy grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, also a lover of a warm spot, has dark leaves that will flatter myrtle’s white flowers in summer and pick up the black berries in autumn.

Bulbous plants share the same love of well-drained, dry conditions and you could accentuate the vivid green leaves by under-planting myrtle with silver-leaved forms of spring-flowering cyclamen, Cyclamen coum Pewter Group or Silver Group. Species tulips and white muscari also work well. The curly-leaved golden marjoram (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum Crispum’), can be cut into small mounds to create a leafy contrast.

Buy Myrtus communis from the Telegraph Gardenshop.

Myrtle Family (Myrtaceae)

Myrtle family (Myrtaceae)

In both the New and Old Worlds many genera of the myrtle family (Myrtaceae) unfurl their waxy, leathery leaves. Containing both trees and shrubs, this angiosperm family takes its name from the shrub Myrtus, which is found near the Mediterranean, in North Africa , and in South America .

Other well known genera from the Myrtaceae include ornamentals such as Leptospermum (Australian tea tree ), Eucalyptus, Verticordia (feather flowers), and Calliostemon (bottle brush). Economically valuable taxa of the Myrtaceae also include Eucalyptus (timber, essential oils), Pimenta (allspice, pimento, bay rum), Psidium (guave), Szygium (cloves), and Melaleuca (timber). In fact, some of the tallest trees known from modern times were specimens of Eucalyptus estimated to have been over 350 ft (107 m) tall. If these reports are accurate, the eucalypts rival the redwoods (gymnosperms, Taxodiaceae) for the title of tallest trees. This could make Eucalyptus the tallest angiosperm, or flowering plant .

Broad taxonomy

In a broader taxonomic sense, the Myrtaceae is a dicot family in the class Rosidae, which also includes the rose and mallow families. The Myrtaceae falls into the order Mytrales, along with the families Lythraceae, Punicaceae (pomegranates), and Onagraceae (evening primroses ).

An unusual and taxonomically useful trait found in the Myrtaceae involves the vascular system of the stem. In most dicotyledonous plants the food conducting cells of the vascular system, the sieve elements of the phloem, surround the water conducting cells, or xylem. In young stems there is usually another group of large cells that appear open in sections viewed under a light microscope . This group of cells is called the pith, inside the xylem. Unusually, some phloem occurs inside the pith in species of the Myrtaceae.

Species of the Myrtaceae are noted for leaf dimorphism: the leaves produced when the plants are young tend to be round and held closely to the branch, while leaves produced when the plants are mature are much longer and thinner. Whether juvenile or adult, the leaves of plants in the myrtle family are opposite. Whenever a leaf is found on one side of the stem, another leaf is found on the opposite side.

The term myrtle, a common name for some species in the genus Myrtus, is also used as a common name for numerous other plants. These are not to be confused with species from the Myrtaceae. The best known plant called a myrtle, which is not a member of the Myrtaceae, may be the popular garden plant, crepe myrtle, (Lagerstroemia indica), of the Lythraceae or loosestrife family.

The Myrtaceae is commonly subdivided into two subfamilies, the Leptospermoideae, which is distributed mostly in Asia and Africa, and the Myrtoideae, found in tropical America, Asia, Australia , and the Pacific. The myrtle family is best known from Australia. Many species in the genera Eucalyptus, Calliostemon, and Verticordia, among others, are found in Australia. However, many genera such as Psidium are present in the Americas, and Myrtus of the Mediterranean and Northern Africa. The genus Eucalyptus is probably the best known representative of the Myrtaceae.

Economic value

Species of the myrtle family provide many valuable products, including timber (e.g. Eucalyptus), essential oils (e.g. allspice), and horticultural plants (e.g. ornamentals such as Verticordia and food plants such as Psidium, guava).

The various species of the Myrtaceae are sources of several valuable essential oils, produced by distillation from leaves. Many of the components of these oils are based on the isoprenoid unit, five carbon atoms linked together in a branched structure with a double bond between two of the carbon atoms involved in the branch point.

Eucalyptus oil includes eucalyptol, with the major component being 1,8-cineole, a modified monoterpenoid, along with hexanol and caproaldehyde. The composition of essential oils varies with the species from which they are distilled, giving each oil a unique character. Eucalyptus risdoni contains tasmanone, while E. grandis contains grandinol. One species of Leptospermum is used to produce a lemon-scented oil, including the compound leptospermone, and Myrtus yields the oil known as Eau d’Anges (literally, water of the angels).

Cloves and allspice also come from the Myrtaceae. Cloves, one of the best known spices from the myrtle family, comes originally from the islands near Southeast Asia. The spice is composed of the whole, dried immature flower buds of the species Szygium aromaticum. Grown in Indonesia, Malaysia, and several African countries, the name for this popular spice comes from the Sanskrit Katukaphelah, which became the Greek karyophyllon and from there the English clove. The buds of this 38-49 ft (12-15 m) tree must be picked with very precise timing and sun-dried to avoid fermentation .

Cloves are a flavoring for mulled cider and ketchup, and for decoration in pomanders. Dried apples or oranges covered with cloves are valued for their pleasant scent. The scent of cloves was considered so pleasant that courtiers of Han Dynasty China chewed cloves to improve their breath before appearing in court. Cloves give their flavor and name to clove cigarettes, or kretek in Indonesia. They are made by mixing cloves with the tobacco.

Distilled clove oil was once used by dentists as an anaesthetic. Cloves were no longer used after some patients had adverse reactions. The principal component of this oil is eugenol, a complex alcohol based on the benzene ring, making it an aromatic chemical.

Allspice, or bay rum, also comes from the Myrtaceae. The spice is extracted from dried, unripe, peasized berries of the species Pimenta dioica, which are reddish brown in color . Unlike cloves, which are native to the Old World, the tall trees which produce these berries grow only in areas near their native climate of Central America and the West Indies. For this reason, the original producers had their business protected. Many other spices were eventually grown in places different than their origins, which hurt the economies of the original producing nations. Most worldwide production comes from the Caribbean—Jamaica, Haiti, Guatemala, and other nearby nations. The name comes from the Spanish pimienta, or black pepper . This confusion of names comes from the similar appearance of the pepper corns and the allspice berries. Pimienta also applies to the hot pepper, of the Solanaceae which also includes the tomato and the potato .

Allspice flavors a number of common foods including several liquors, such as Benedictine, pies, and ketchup. The principal active compound in allspice is eugenol, as in the case of cloves.

Many species from the myrtle family have attractive glossy green leaves and colorful flowers making them popular horticultural plants. Many species are from arid regions, so the drought tolerance provides another valuable trait for horticulture . They are particularly valuable in regions with similar Mediterranean climates, such as southern California, where they remain bright and attractive during an otherwise bleak time of the year. Eucalypts make attractive street trees.

Their resilience has a negative side in the face of drought. The leathery leaves of Myrtaceous plants are rich in highly flammable hydrocarbons and present a fire hazard.

In their natural environments, this abundance of flammable oils acts to promote the survival and success of myrtaceous plants. Forest and brush fires occur normally during the dry times of the year in places where these species of the Myrtaceae live. The flammability of the myrtaceous plants feeds these fires. Species of Eucalyptus regenerate after these fires either from dormant buds or lignotubers, woody subterranean modified stems. Other species which might otherwise compete with Myrtaceous plants for resources such as water and sunlight are destroyed or damaged in the fires while Myrtaceous species, such as eucalypts, survive. Ironically, the ability to burn is actually a competitive advantage for these plants.

The myrtle family provides a number of important timber species, including those of the genera Eucalyptus and Melaleuca. Eucalyptus provided the Australian aborigines the opportunity to make dishes and canoes. The roots of some species were used for food.

Species of Eucalyptus were first collected by expedition botanists traveling with Captain James Cook. The name Eucalyptus was created by botanist, David Nelson, on Cook’s third voyage, from the Greek words for “well covered.” The name came from complete covering of some parts of the flower bud by the operculum, or dome covering the male and female organs. The operculum sheds when the flower opens. The operculum is a ring of fused, hardened petals, as is found in the non-myrtaceous plant honeysuckle (Lonicera, Caprifoliaceae, soft petals). Species in the genus Eucalyptus, like the rest of the Myrtaceae, are woody perennials ranging in size from shrubs to tall trees.

The genus Eucalyptus is divided into six general types of eucalypts based on the appearance of the bark : the gums with their smooth outer bark resulting from annual shedding of the roughest outermost layer (Eucalyptus apodophyolla); the bloodwoods with tesselated bark, with the dead, outermost layer being composed of plates of short fibered material (E. tesselaris); the boxes, not to be confused with boxwood from the family possess short-fibered bark, which sticks to the outside of the tree after the outermost layer is dead, fading to a pleasant gray (E. moluccana), while the stringy barks also retain the outermost, dead layer of bark but take their name from its long fibered nature (E. reducta) peppermints; the ironbarks (E. melanophloia) are covered with a hard, furrowed bark which remains continuous after the outermost layer is dead. Finally, the minniritchi eucalypts have a partially detached outermost layer of bark which splits longitudinally to reveal the green inner bark (E. orbifolia). The ironbarks are known for the density and lasting quality of their wood . It is a particularly useful wood for heavy building and for railway ties.

Melaleuca, a genus known by the common name paperbark, yields ornamental timber. The various species of the genus include shrubs and trees which grow in swamps and marshes. The flowers resemble bottle brushes, showing the close relationship between this genus and Calliostemon. With the species of the genus Leptospermum, those of the genus Melaleuca share the common name tea-trees. It is from Melaleuca, not Leptospermum, that tea-tree oil is distilled.

Species of the genus Melaleuca were transferred to Florida for development purposes. People wanted to use the strong invasive roots of this tree to turn swampland into firm ground for building. However, in the swamps of Florida, Melaleuca has proven to be an invasive pest that has displaced many native species from the swamps. Melaleuca reproduces so quickly and so thickly that attempts to eliminate it from the swamps by cutting have met with little success. Efforts are being made to remove Melaleuca by introducing an insect which feeds on it. A similar phenomenon has occurred in New Caledonia, where when native trees have burned, solid stands of Melaleuca replaced them.

Besides spices and timber, humans also use species of the Myrtaceae for food. The popular fruit guava is produced by species of several genera from the Myrtaceae. Pineapple guava grows on trees of the genus Feijoa, and strawberry guava comes from Psidium littorale, native to tropical America.

A number of species from the Myrtle family are used horticulturally or decoratively. Attractive flowers are produced by species such a Leptospermum and Calliostemon. Now grown in gardens around the world, species of Calliostemon were originally found growing in wet spots in Australia. Their bright flowers look like long round brushes, thus the common name for this genus, bottle brushes. Some species are unusual in that they are among the few plants in the world pollinated by birds instead of the wind or insects .

The flowers of Leptospermum resemble flattened roses, and the small dark green leaves resemble those of the herb rosemary. Before tea was available in Australia, the leaves of Leptospermum were used as a substitute for tea, which is made from the dried leaves of a species of Camillia. From this early use by European settlers, the genus Leptospermum derives the common name tea-trees. Young branches and dried seed pods of Eucalyptus are popular in floral arrangements. The young branches have the attractive round leaves tightly appressed to the stem and are characteristic of juvenile material from species of the Myrtaceae. The leaves are mottled with wax.



Swahn, J.O. The Lore of Spices. New York: Crescent, 1991.


Bender, S. “Who Let Them In?” Southern Living (1994): 52-54.

Burgess, T., B. Dell, and N. Malajczuk. “Variation in Mycorrhizal Development and Growth Stimulation by 20 Pisolithus Isolates Inoculated on to Eucalyptus grandis W. Hill ex Maiden.” New Phytologist 127 (1994): 731-739.

Douglas W. Darnowski


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Essential oil

—A mixture of hydrocarbons and organic heterocyclic compounds (secondary metabolites) produced by a plant species. The specific composition is also characteristic of a given species from which the essential oil is distilled. For example, distillation of allspice yields an oil composed principally of eugenol.


—A tree from a species of Eucalyptus.


—The principal hydrocarbon compound in the scent and taste of the spices, cloves, and allspice.


—A branched, five-carbon unit used by living organisms to produce a variety of compounds including the terpenoids, which are particularly abundant in the species of the Myrtaceae.


—From the French pomme d’amber (literally, apple of amber), originally a scented ball of amber or a scented apple. Usually an apple or orange scented by piercing the fresh fruit with cloves. When the fruit dries, the cloves remain in the fruit. They can then be used to scent household areas such as clothes closets.

Evergreen Shrub Myrtus

M.communis or “Common myrtle” is an evergreen shrub of upright, bushy habit with glossy dark green, aromatic leaves 5cm(2in) long. From mid to late summer and into early autumn masses of white, 5 petalled flowers with conspicuous tufts of white stamens are produced. These are a good source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. Purple-black berries can be produced in hot summers. Suitable for a mixed border or against a warm, sunny wall. Needs moderately fertile soil which is moist but well drained in a sunny position, sheltered from cold winds. Little pruning is required, just trim any shoots which are out of place in mid to late spring. HxS 3m(10ft).

Planting Guide

Preparing the soil before planting allows you to make sure that conditions are right for your plant. To encourage good root growth the soil surrounding the planting hole needs to be good enough to entice the roots out from the planting hole. Improve the fertility of the soil by incorporating fertilisers such as Fish, Blood & Bone, Growmore or Vitax Q4. Organic matter can be added, J.Arthur Bower’s Mulch & Mix, New Horizon Multi-Purpose Compost or Farmyard Manure will all add bulky organic matter to the garden. Ideally you should improve a fairly large area around your plant.


  1. Dig your hole deep enough to allow the surface of the root ball to be level with the surrounding soil. The hole needs to be about three times wider than the diameter of the root ball.
  2. If the sides of the hole are compacted, break the soil up with a fork.
  3. Rootgrow can be added to the planting hole at this stage. This is a mycorrhizal fungi which helps the root system grow.
  4. Making sure your plant is well watered, remove it from the pot and gently tease the roots out from the root ball.
  5. Place the plant in the centre of the hole.
  6. Refill the hole, carefully making sure that soil goes between the roots eliminating any air pockets.
  7. Gently firm, but do not compact the soil.

Planting as a Wall Shrub

When growing as a wall shrub, it may need some support such as a wooden trellis or wires stretched over the surface you want to cover. These need to start 30cm(12in) above the soil surface, and be raised slightly from the wall or fence.

  1. Dig a hole about 45cm(18in) from the base of a wall, (walls tend to remove moisture from the soil and thus away from the newly planted shrub).
  2. Proceed as stages 1 – 3 above.
  3. Making sure that the root ball is thoroughly watered, position the plant at a 45 degree angle to the wall.
  4. Fan the roots away from the wall, back fill with soil, firm in and water well.
  5. As the plant grows tie in the new growth to the support.


For the first season for smaller plants, and two for larger plants, watering is all important in getting the plant established. Check regularly that the roots are moist. Light rain in summer does not penetrate down to the roots, and dry windy conditions will lead to water shortages for the plants. Evergreen plants will need to be checked through winter as they will be losing water through their foliage. Try to anticipate water loss rather than waiting for the plant to show signs of stress.


Keep other plants away from your newly planted shrub. If planting in a lawn keep a 1.2m(4ft) vegetation free circle around your plant. In the borders keep the weeds dwon by hoeing. Mulching will help in both controlling weeds and grass, but also keeping in the moisture in the soil. Keep the mulch away from the base of woody plants to help prevent rotting of the bark.

Always follow the manufacturers instructions when using fertilisers.

Seasonally these plants are available in our Hardy Plant Department. Please ask a member of staff for availability and advice.

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