The Myrtle Plant: A Symbol of Beauty

Myrtle (Myrtus) has been grown as a decorative plant for thousands of years, and yet it is still a rarity indoors. The small oval leaves are shiny and aromatic – the white flowers appear in large numbers in summer. In the fall,  purple berries appear.

Myrtle Plant

In midwinter, many of the shoots are crowned by a series of radiating pink stems that are themselves topped with small heather-pink stars. These immature fruits eventually berry into purple black, but in their unformed state, they brighten the foliage and give this ancient, egg-shaped evergreen extra sparkle.

The shrub will grow about 2 feet tall if left untrimmed and can be stood outdoors during summer. Outdoors, the myrtle plant must be tucked against a sheltered wall, grown in a seaside garden with a maritime climate, or planted in a container to avoid being browned by frost.

The Meaning and Symbolism of the Myrtle Plant

The myrtle flower is often seen as a symbol of beauty. Myrtle flowers are said to bring good luck, energy, and positivity. And when you gift a myrtle tree, you are passing on good luck and happiness to its new owner.

The small white flowers of the myrtle plant can also symbolize innocence and purity, making them a popular choice in rituals and religious ceremonies in North America.

Myrtle flowers are popularly used in weddings as the walkway in which the bride walks down is decorated with myrtle sprigs, and a crown of myrtle flowers can be placed on her head. This was said to bring the couple long-lasting love.

Myrtle trees were held in high regard in ancient mythology. And tombs were often decorated with myrtle flowers to bring luck to those in the afterlife. More recently, we saw myrtle flowers used as Queen Elizabeth’s funeral flowers.

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Myrtle Plant

Myrtle blooms

What Do Myrtle Plant Blooms Look Like?

The Myrtus communis bears bowl-shaped blooms, each with a prominent central boss of golden stamens. Where space is limited, choose the small-leaved variety M. microphylla. Myrtle flowers are fragrant and have small glossy leaves, and white star shaped flowers. The stamens are long and produce purple black berries after blooming.

Secrets of Success

Temperature: Cool or average warmth – minimum 40°F in winter. In mid-fall, we have to locate myrtus communis in a cool room.

Myrtle Plant

Light: This plant is bright, requires direct sunlight all year round, and needs protection from the midday summer sun. A sunny windowsill in the summertime is the perfect place for growth.

Water: Water regularly from early spring to fall. Water sparingly in winter. Use soft water.

Myrtle Plant

Berries in winter

Berries in Winter

  • Air Humidity: Mist leaves frequently
  • Repotting: Repot, if necessary, in spring
  • Propagation: Take stem cuttings in summer

myrtle topiary

Myrtle topiary

Myrtle Topiary

The myrtle 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 myrtle communis has lush foliage and small white flowers. You must be diligent when it comes to watering a myrtle topiary.

Different Types of Myrtles

There are many different types of myrtle plant. Some are known for their culinary and medicinal properties, while others are used more for ornamental value.

True Myrtle

Also known as the common myrtle, the true myrtle is a hardy evergreen garden shrub that can grow between 4.9 and 8.2 feet. This myrtle plant is more erect than others and has pointed leaves with an oval shape. Coastal landscapers prefer this myrtle plant because it attracts mammals, insects, and birds.

If the true myrtle isn’t clipped, it will grow into a round, dense shrub that can be used as a border or foundation. The true myrtle plant produces white starburst flowers complementing its dark green foliage. This plant requires little to moderate water and full sun so it can reach its maximum height.

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As long as the soil is well-drained, it will grow well. It is a drought tolerant plant and produces myrtle berries, a fruit similar to a blueberry that is edible but not sweet.

Wax Myrtle

The wax myrtle is a native plant that grows quickly and can thrive in harsh conditions. It is dense but can be manicured as it grows upright into a bush form. It has aromatic leaves and produces small spring flowers and clusters of small fruit in the fall that often lasts through winter.

The wax myrtle is most commonly used as a privacy screen. It can be trimmed around 5 to 6 feet tall, but it can grow up to 20 feet or more when left untrimmed. They prefer full to partial sun and are also salt tolerant.

Crepe Myrtle

The crepe myrtle is a summer flowering tree in the south. It can tolerate both heat and drought. Crepe myrtle blooms in brilliant fall colors, has attractive bark, and can perform year-round. It is native to China but does well in southern soil.

Its branches have a gray, tan, or cinnamon-colored appearance, and its foliage is red, orange, and yellow. Their best colors show through during the summer heat, and this is when you can get a full view of its brilliance with red, pink, lavender, purple, and white.

The crepe myrtle requires full sun and well-drained soil. However, it can tolerate a number of different soil conditions as long as there is good drainage. They bloom during the summer and fall and are relatively low maintenance.

Due to the damp and humid growing conditions this plant is used to, you need to watch for powdery mildew. This is a fungus that grows on leaves. Powdery mildew prevents new growth and can damage the leaves.

Dwarf Myrtle

The dwarf myrtle grows into a medium-sized evergreen shrub slowly, getting to be between 5 and 8 feet high and wide. It is a common plant used for hedges but does require a good amount of work to maintain.

The foliage of the dwarf myrtle is medium green. It has white flowers and its growing season is during the summer. It prefers well-drained soil, silt, loam, clay, or calcareous soil.

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The dwarf myrtle can be used in residential or commercial spaces, as fragrant foliage in a brilliant garden design, planted in raised planters, or used as hedges, foundations, or flowering accent plants. It also does well in the wind, morning sun, heat, frost, and even all day sun.

Myrtle Plant Care

Wondering if you can have an indoor myrtle plant? Yes, it can be kept indoors, but you need to keep in mind that it requires a lot of light and air. It prefers partial shade outdoors during the hot summer months. During fall, your myrtle plant should be taken to a cool room with temperatures hovering around 50°F. It should also be placed in a south facing window or under grow lights.

Is the Myrtle Plant an Annual or Perennial?

The myrtle plant is considered a long-lived perennial and performs its best in a sheltered and warm area where it is protected from the wind. Its peak growing season is during the summer, as the warmer climate reminds it of its Mediterranean roots.

How Fast Does Myrtle Grow?

Most myrtle plant types grow at a fast rate and can see height increases of more than 24 inches per year. Crepe myrtle is a good example of a type that grows quickly. Many crepe myrtle trees will take five to ten years to mature.

If you want your myrtle plant to grow faster and produce more flowers, consider using a slow-release fertilizer high in nitrogen. Be sparing with it, however, because it can lead to more leaves than flowers. Water your plant at least once a week, soaking the root system.

What Does Myrtle Smell Like?

The myrtle plant has a fresh, almost camphoraceous, sweet smell. The leaves and flowers are both extremely fragrant. Many find the scent rather herbaceous and similar to the eucalyptus plant. The flowers are sweet-scented.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2016 and has been completely updated.

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