Northern Bayberry

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Myrica pensylvanica is an upright semi-evergreen shrub that often spreads by suckers to form colonies. Northern Bayberry is noted for its ornamental silver berries in winter, its winter salt spray tolerance, and its adaptability to urban stresses or wet sites, making it a perfect asset to a centralized location on Yale's campus.
Sophia Durney and Kaitlin Flores
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Vaguely conical, wider at base
Date of tree entry: 
0.94 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.40 m

There are too many multiple trunks to accurately measure the DBH, so this is just an estimate
Smooth, light grey
Twigs & branches
There are about 4 long thin woody branches extending from the base of this plant. The twigs become thinner as they extend further from the main branches, and are lighter in color than the mature branches. There are small, elongated floral buds emerging from the twigs that appear spinelike in winter.
When fully populated with leaves, the shrub has medium texture. Leaves appear medium to dark green, alternate, obovate, and sparsely serrated on the upper half of some leaves. The plant is semi-evergreen to deciduous in winter, with some dead brown leaves also hanging on throughout most of the winter. The leaves are sticky with a spicy scent when crushed.
Reproductive Structures
The flowers are borne in catkins around 3–18 mm long and range in colors from green to red. These plants are dioecious with male and female plants, but sometimes are monoecious. Male flowers are yellow-green catkins while female flowers are single with no sepals or petals.
The fruit is a small drupe, a wrinkled berry around 3–5.5 mm diameter, with a pale blue-purple waxy coating. They begin as light green fruits in summer and mature to silver or white-gray small berries in autumn and persist into the following growing season. The berries grow in tight clusters along the second-year stems.
  • Winter (February)
  • Autumn
  • Summer
  • Spring (April)
Natural range of distribution: 
The northern bayberry is native to eastern North America, ranging from Newfoundland to Ontario and Ohio, and further south to North Carolina. This species has root nodules containing nitrogen-fixing microorganisms, allowing it to grow in relatively poor soils.
Origin, history, and uses: 

Myrica pensylvanica is a member of the Myrica genus, which has a wide distribution extending over 6 continents, excluding only Australia. However, the native distribution of the northern bayberry is confined to eastern North America. The generic name myrica was derived from the Greek word μυρίκη (myrike), meaning “fragrance,” and indeed the leaves and berries of the northern bayberry exhibit a spicy scent when crushed. American colonists boiled the berries to extract the sweet-smelling wax coating, which they used to make clean-burning candles. In popular culture, it was used for that purpose by the Robinson family in the novel The Swiss Family Robinson. Due to its silver berries, the northern bayberry is also grown as an ornamental plant in gardens. 

Myrica pensylvanica is semi-evergreen, so its leaves remain dark green throughout summer and lack real fall colors, slowly turning bronze or tan and falling through the autumn and winter. During winter, floral buds stud the branches. The flowers bloom in early spring, and light green fruits emerge in summer, eventually maturing into silver or white-gray small berries in autumn and persisting into the following growing season. The twigs are green when they emerge, changing to tan at the end of the first growing season, and becoming light gray to silvery on the more mature branches.
Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
Mark H. Brand. “Myrica pensylvanica: Northern Bayberry”. Archived 2001 at the Wayback Machine Plant UConn Database of trees, shurbs and vines
Other information of interest: 

The wax coating on the northern bayberry fruit is indigestible for most birds, but a few species have adapted to be able to eat it, notably the yellow-rumped warbler and tree swallow in North America. As the wax is very energy-rich, this enables the yellow-rumped warbler to spend winter further north in cooler climates than any other American warbler if bayberries are present. The seeds are then dispersed in the birds’ droppings. 

Shrub Canopy Area: