Myrtus communis L.
Myrtus communis, commonly called True Myrtle, Common Myrtle or Saharan Myrtle, is a decorative shrub or small tree with scented white flowers.
- 1 Naming
- 2 Taxonomy
- 3 Characteristics
- 4 Growth
- 5 Wood and Bark
- 6 Leaves
- 7 Flowers and Fruit
- 8 Distribution
- 9 Cultivation
- 10 Uses
- 11 Maintenance
- 12 Varieties and Cultivars
- 13 Toxicity
- 14 Man and Myrtus communis
Myrus communis was described by Carl von LinnÃ© in 1753.
The Common Myrtle grows as a shrub or small tree and reaches heights of up to 5 metres, rarely higher.
Wood and Bark
The bark is reddish brown and on older plants peels off in stripes or slabs.
The wood is tough and has a density of 0,95 g/cmÂ³ when air-dry, it is easy to work, glue and dries fast and easily. The wood is used in turnery, for marquetry, furniture construction and to make sculptures. There is also wood of other species, however, that is sold under the name of Myrtle, e.g. Umbellularia california (Oregon Myrtle, Pepperwood) that is very common in America but is not related to the True Myrtle.
Myrtus communis is evergreen. The leaves are small, dark-green and leathery. They are narrow lanceolate to ovate-lanceolate with entire margins. Cells filled with essential oils can be distinguished as light dots when the leaves are held against the light.
Flowers and Fruit
The normally white and heavily scented flowers develop abundantly in the summer months. They have five petals and numerous long stamina. After flowering the shrubs carry shortly petiolate, bluish-black fruits that are about the size of currants and may hold over 30 seeds that are 2 to 3 millimetres big. The fruits are edible, but do only have regional economic importance. One cultivar of Myrtus communis has white berries.
Myrtus communis is native to the Mediterranean. It is typically found in Maquis shrubland together with other low-growing shrubs. The Maguis developed after the clearing of the primary woods of the Mediterranean.
True Myrtle should have bright and airy conditions when cultivated indoors. The absorbent effect of modern insulation windows should be taken into consideration if the plants are placed in a window. They may considerably abate the wavelengths of sunlight that the plants need, so it may be necessary to enquire the technical details from the manufacturer. Additional lighting is recommended at the end of winter and in early spring when the plants begin to drive out, but daylight is still insufficient.
From mid-spring to mid-autumn a slightly sunny to half-shady spot outside is conductive to the plants. 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. Rotate the plants every two weeks to provide light from all sides and avoid one-sided growth.
In winter the Myrtle should have bright and cool conditions (8 to 12Â°C). If the temperatures are higher, but never as warm as directly above a radiator, is it necessary to provide good ventilation and lower temperatures at night. The higher the temperatures, the more need of light and water. Dry and warm conditions raise the susceptibility to pests and diseases, so plants should be controlled regularly in winter.
Myrtus communis is sometimes used for seasoning in its source area. The berries are a surrogate for pepper. Fresh leaves and berries are used to season meat dishes.
The berries are also used to produce delicious liqueurs, both as clear and dark varieties. The best-known is probably the Corsican liqueur "Myrtine", but there is also a sparkling wine, "Myrtus Dolce Spumante", which is produced in Sardinia and flavoured with myrtle berries. The berries can also be used in jellies.
The oil of Myrtus communis is known as angel water in the perfume industry. It also has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, skin-purifying, analgetic and mucolytic qualities. Some pharmaceuticals to treat bronchial diseases contain agents obtained from Myrtle leaves. In recent years certain substances of Myrtus communis have been tested for effectiveness against cancer. It seems that the results are quite promising since there is at least one patent pending.
Watering and Fertilizing
Water freely in midsummer and during the main growing season but avoid stagnant moisture by providing good drainage. Water sparingly in winter but keep the soil slightly moist at all times, the plants do not tolerate dryness of the root ball at any time of year. The rule of thumb for watering: the brighter and the warmer the conditions the more water is needed. A dried-up root ball will cause the plants to die within a very short time!
Apply a standard houseplant fertilizer from spring to the end of August. Do not fertilize in winter. The only exception is made for plants that are placed in warm conditions (16 to 18Â°C). They should be given fertilizer at half concentration twice during winter.
Soil and Repotting
Young specimens should be repotted every 1 to 2 years, older plants every 3 to 4 years. Longer roots may be cut back in the process but never more than one third of their length. Never put the plants deeper into the soil than they have been before and always provide good drainage.
Although Myrtles will thrive in standard potting soil the results are usually better with a special soil mixture that is easily made:
- 4 parts high-quality potting soil
- 4 parts coconut fibre
- 1 part clay granulate
- 1 part perlite
The shrubs can easily be pruned into different shapes like globes, complicated geometrical shapes or bonsais. To achieve this new shoots are repeatedly cut back to 1 or 2 pairs of leaves as soon are they are slighty lignified at the base or have 5 to 7 leaf pairs. To not cut back after the end of April if flowers are desired but wait until after flowering. Single branches can also be trained as cushions.
The interior of the crown tends to become bare-branched with age so rejuvenation is required. Cut back well into established wood and make sure to water sparingly afterwards since the plants hardly evaporate without the missing leaves.
Myrtus communis is comparatively easily propagated from seeds. Sow seeds as soon as possible after harvesting them, but first remove the flesh and let them dry for two to three days. Germination depends on many factors, such as soil temperature, consistent moisture and the pre-treatment of the seeds. The seeds usually germinate after two to six weeks at room temperature, but may also germinate after as much as two months. Soaking the seeds in lukewarm water for 48 hours and/or carefully scarifying the tough shell increases chances and speed of germination.
Propagation by cuttings gives faster success. Cuttings can be taken all year round and can easily be rooted in water. The shoots should be slightly lignified, 10 to 20 centimetres long and put into water immediately after cutting them. Rooting strongly depends on the season and ranges from three weeks in summer to three months in winter.
Varieties and Cultivars
- Myrtus communis 'Microphylla', leaves only 2 cm long, plants do not grow higher than 60 cm
- Myrtus communis 'Compacta', also a dwarf form
- Myrtus communis 'Variegata', leaves variegated, 5 cm long
- Myrtus communis 'Flore Pleno', double white flowers
- Myrtus communis 'Tarentia', acicular leaves, cream white flowers
Other cultivars: 'Hamburger Brautmyrte', 'KÃ¶nigsberger Brautmyrte', 'GruÃ aus dem Ehrental'.
Please read the health issues note!
The essential oil contained in the leaves is slightly toxic. It may cause headaches, nausea, indigestion, and may colour urine purple if consumed in larger quantities (above 10 ml).
Man and Myrtus communis
For ages Myrtus communis has been used as a bridal ornament, in former times a bride would wear a wreath of myrtle branches.