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.