Myricaceae (Wax-myrtle Family)

Members of Myricaceae are shrubs and small trees with aromatic alternate leaves. The western varieties are all evergreen, while some in other locals are deciduous.

Plants develop catkins of both pistillate staminate (female and male, if you will) flowers. The pistallate catkins have two or more bracts and are erect - each pistil develops into a small single-seed fruit. The stamonate bracts are longer, drooping, and have a single bract.

On Montara Mountain and in the Bay Area, there is only one species from this family:

Myrica californica - California Wax Myrtle



Myrica californica:
California Wax Myrtle

Myricaceae (Wax-myrtle Family)

Flowers: Green to red to brown caitkins at base of leaves towards branch ends; both pistillate and staminate together.

Blooms: April - July

Leaves: Narrow, slightly toothed; about 4 inches long; slightly sticky and fragrant when crushed.

Fruit/Seeds: Purple-ish, single-seeded berries coated with a white wax; at base of leaves. September - October.

Location: Damp slopes throughout the mountain below 1000 feet.

Status: Native - Common.

Myrica californica
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A close up of the pistillate (smaller) and staminate (larger) catkins on M. californica.

This image shows the developing berries, which will turn purple when ripe.

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Further description & Comment: 2 to 20 feet tall, depending on habitat. Sheltered tress can get quite large and spread-out. The ones that grow along the rock walls above Green Valley on San Pedro Mtn. Road, like the image to the left, are a good example.

Wax-myrtle is also known as bayberry - the same used for various medicinal preparations. Leaves, bark, wood and roots are used - distressed plants are most sought for their high content of myricinic acid, and astrigent resin.

The leaves are extemely fragrant when crushed, and I will leave the description to Michael Moore from his Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West; " ... evoking memories of old fraternal lodges, polished brass and leather, and clean shaven, ancient white men wearing burgandy sashes."


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