Myrtle Origins and Varieties

Myrtle Origins and Varieties
Myrtle Origins

The common myrtle (Myrtus communis) was apparently native to West Asia, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. It has naturalized in southern Europe, especially in pine woods, stony ground, and evergreen thickets. The plant was cultivated in the Holy Land. Myrtle grows wild in the dry hills of the Middle East and North Africa.

A related species is found in the Mediterranean. Another species found on an island east of Australia called ‘Ball’s Pyramid’ is the sole food of the Lord Howe Island stick insect.

Myrtle has long been used for various culinary purposes. Nearly all parts of the plant have been used in various dishes. In addition, some parts of the plant have long been used medicinally. For more details, see the separate article on Culinary and Medicinal Uses.

Myrtle Varieties

The plant size, leaf color, fruit color, and other characteristics can vary according to the variety. A number of varieties are available. Some of the most widely grown ones include the following. One known as boxleaf myrtle is named for the box-shaped foliage.

Boetica is an upright plant with twisted, thick branches. This has very scented, leathery, upward pointing, large, dark green leaves that are 1½ inch long. The four to six foot tall plant does well in desert areas.

Compacta is a dwarf, dense, slow growing variety that is widely grown in California and is very good for small gardens, topiary, bonsai, and low formal hedges. It has been used for edging and low informal hedges. The very leafy plant with leathery foliage is slow growing. A variegated Compacta is also available.

Dwarf myrtle or microphylla is the most commonly grown variety. This very dwarf plant is only about two feet tall. It has crowded, overlapping tiny foliage, less than an inch long. Linear to lanceolate, the leaves point upwards.

Named a RHS winner, dwarf myrtle is compact and free flowering. It features white fruits.

Dwarf myrtle is very easy to train and prune. A variegated version of dwarf myrtle is also available.

Tarentina is also known as microphylla, Jenny Reitenbach, and nana myrtle. Suitable for containers and topiary, it is a very leafy, compact, white fruited variety with small, narrowly elliptic, tough foliage, ¾ inch long. The stems and leaf stalks are covered with dense white down. The cream colored, tinged flowers are saucer shaped.

Variegata has greenish-gray or greenish-white, mottled leaves, two inches in length, with creamy white edges. This apparently isn’t quite as hardy.

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