The wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) is one of the most common shrubby trees in southern Louisiana. It has figured prominently in the development of our rich cultural heritage.
The leaves are very resinous and aromatic when crushed. The fruit of the wax myrtle are small wax coated berries growing along the stems. Forty species of birds, including the Yellow-rumped Warbler (formerly aptly named Myrtle Warbler), are known to feed on the fruit.
Wax myrtles, or bayberries as they are called up North (Alexandria and above!), were responsible for one of the first recorded local exports to Europe. Early wax-men, or ciriers, boiled the berries and stems, skimmed wax off the water, and produced bayberry candles. Favored for their aroma and persistence, this local product soon became popular throughout the Western World, especially among royalty. With the demand, wax myrtle came under cultivation, thus becoming one of the earliest agricultural products.
Another use of wax myrtle was even more creative and exists to this day. Local fishermen cut the thick shrubby growth-forms of the species and placed them in estuaries. Recently shed blue crabs (soft-shells) would seek shelter from predators within the dense branches; fishermen would lift the trees out of the water and harvest the soft-shelled delicacies!