Flowers & Unripe Fruits of Common Myrtle
Flowers & Unripe Fruits of Common Myrtle

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.)

The Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) belongs to that valuable category of plants that accompanied man if not from the moment he came down from the trees at least from the food-gathering stage, supplying him with tasty and nutritious fruits and later with medicines and perfumes.

In the modern turbulent and complicated era, Common Myrtle found another path to enter the now civilized world of the former monkey, simply by displaying its abundant ornamental skills.

With the utmost pride, the descendants of that monkey ancestor who make up the editorial team of "Kalliergeia", declare to the thirsty for knowledge and knowledgeable audience of this site, that in this article they will deal mainly with the highlighting of the ornamental elements of Common Myrtle, which automatically declare it as one of the most valuable plants of gardening and landscape architecture.

With the ancestor monkey will deal another time, since they have unfinished business.

Common Myrtle develops natural populations in almost the entire Mediterranean Basin.

Myrtus communis Nature Shrub in Andalusia, Spain
Myrtus communis Nature Shrub in Andalusia, Spain
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Common Myrtle Origin

Myrtus communis L. (Common Myrtle) - Map of Origin
Myrtus communis L. (Common Myrtle) - Map of Origin

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.)

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) - Brief Description

Family: Myrtaceae

Genus: Myrtus L. 

Scientific Name: Myrtus communis L. 

Common Name: Common Myrtle, True Myrtle, Bride’s Myrtle, Roman Myrtle, Sweet Myrtle, Sweet Roman Myrtle, True Roman Myrtle

General Characteristics

Leaf Persistence

Evergreen

Form

Shrub or small Tree

Texture

Fine

Growth Rate

Slow to Moderate

Flowering Period

Summer

Fruiting Period

Autumn – Winter

Height

1.5-3 up to 5 m (5-10 up to 16ft)

Diameter

1.5-3 up to 5 m (5-10 up to 16ft)

Shapes and Colors

Leaves Shape

Lanceolate

Foliage Colour

Green

Autumn Foliage Colour

Green

Flowers Shape

Star Shaped

Flowers Colour

White

Fruit

Berry

Plantation

Soil Type: Excellent drainage, sandy, loamy, clay

Soil pH: 6.1-8.3

Watering: Moderate

Exposure: Sun

Hardiness: -12 °C (-10 °F – USDA Hardiness Zone 8)

Uses

Specimen, parks, hedges, windbreaks, gardens, landscape restorations, therapeutic, medicinal, edible fruits, perfumery

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.)

Myrtus communis Flowers & Berries
Myrtus communis Flowers & Berries

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) - Etymology

Etymology of the Genus Name

The etymology of the name of the genus Myrtus must be sought in the Ancient Greek word "μύρτος", which through the Latin "myrtus" passed almost as it is in many European and non-European languages, such as:

  • In English as myrtle
  • In German as myrte
  • In Spanish and Italian as mirto
  • In French as myrte
  • In Estonian as mürt
  • In Russian as мырт
  • In Armenian as mrdeni [մրտենի]
  • In Modern Greek as μυρτιά
  • In Turkish as murt
  • And in Persian (Farsi) as mourd [دروہ]

The word μύρτος comes from the Ancient Greek «μύρον» (myron), which means "balm, chrism, and / or ointment" and seems to be a loan from the Semitic as it is related:

  • With the Hebrew word "mōr" (רֹמ) which means "bitter, bitterness", and refers to the "reddish-brown resinous material", ie the gum – the dried sap of some trees, but mainly that of the plant Commiphora myrrha
  • With the Arabic "murr" (مُرّ), which also means "bitter".

Etymology of the Species Name

The name of the species communis, of course, lacks originality since it has been given to numerous plants, however what it loses in originality, it gains in clarity since it simply means "common".

Derived from the Old Latin word co(m)moinis, which in turn derives from the Proto-Indo-European word *ḱom-moy-ni-, and the root * mey- which means "to change".

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.)

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) - Origin & Life Span

Origin

The Common Myrtle is estimated to have Iran and Afghanistan as its cradle. However, native populations are found in other areas as well, occupying an extensive area starting in the western part of the Indian subcontinent and Pakistan, including West Asia, the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean Basin (where it is the sole representative of Myrtaceae family), and reaches West to the Atlantic and Macaronesia.

Distribution

The countries in which its natural populations develop are listed immediately below.

Africa 

Macaronesia: Portugal (Azores Islands, Madeira), Spain (Canary Islands).

North Africa: Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia.

Northeast Tropical Africa: Eritrea, Ethiopia.

Note: In South Africa it has fully acclimatized and naturalized, developed its populations in the Western Cape province.

Asia

Arabian Peninsula: Yemen.

West Asia: Afghanistan (Kunar / Nuristan, Laghman, and Nangarhar Provinces), Cyprus, Iran (North, West, and Central East), Iraq (North, and South East – Mesopotamia), Israel (Northern Israel and Rift Valley), Jordan, Lebanon (Western & Coastal), Syria (Western Coastal and Mountainous), Turkey (Anatolia – Bithynia).

Indian Subcontinent: Pakistan (in Sindh, Baluchistan, Waziristan, Kurram, Dir, Peshawar, Swat, and Pakistan Punjab provinces).

Europe

Southeastern Europe: Albania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia & Kosovo, Northern Macedonia, Greece (including Crete, the Cyclades, Rhodes and the Eastern Aegean), Italy (including Sardinia, Sicily), Malta.

Southwestern Europe: France (including Corsica), Portugal, Spain (including the Balearic islands).

Habitats

The Common Myrtle develops its natural populations at an altitude that starts almost from sea level and extends up to 600 to 800 m.

It occupies coastal areas with thickets and stabilized dunes, areas with Maquis vegetation and scrublands, while at the upper altitude limit it is bordered by oak forests and other forest trees, where atmospheric humidity is tolerated.  

Life Span

True Myrtle, as much as it may not seem at first glance, it is true that lives from 50 to 150 years – an admittedly admirable performance.

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.)

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) - Morphological Elements

The Common Myrtle is a perennial, evergreen, multi-branched shrub or small tree, with a slow to medium growth rate, which has no thorns and surface roots.

It has erect, and compact appearance and a spherical-oval shape. The canopy is symmetrical, of medium density, rather normal outline, and which is characterized as a fine texture.

The plant can reach a height of 3 m in the first 5 to 10 years of its life and in less than 20, if the conditions are favor, it will reach up to 5 m.

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.)

The Seeds of Common Myrtle
The Seeds of Common Myrtle

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) - Botanical Description

Trunk

The trunk of Common Myrtle has a smooth surface and a grayishy red-brown color, but gradually over time the bark is peeling off, acquiring gray shades and revealing a darker or lighter gray-reddish inner bark. 

Twigs & Shoots

The twigs have reddish bark, but when they mature they also acquire grayish shades. The older branches peel and turn gray as the trunk, leaving a darker or lighter gray-reddish inner bark visible.

Leaves

The True Myrtle has simple leaves, with entire margins, and ovate or lanceolate to elliptical shape, ending at a sharp apex.

They are leathery, glabrous, with a bright glossy green color on the upper surface and a grayish light green below.

They have visible oily glands, as superficial spots, are hard and with stiff structure, and when crushed leave a delicate aromatic odor.

The leaves are arranged on the shoots spirally or oppositely in pairs, and usually are sessile, while their length ranges between 0.8 and 5 cm.

Flowers

The flowers of Common Myrtle are solitary, hermaphroditic, actinomorphic, asteroid-shaped and white or slightly pinkish in color.

The calyx and the corolla is 5merous, with sepals triangular 1-2 mm long, and petals of round to oval, spreading, and adaxially concave, 6-15 mm long, with glands and somewhat tomentose margin covered with fine hairs.

The stamens, which are longer than the petals, are numerous and form a dense ring with yellow anthers, while the ovary is inferior and syncarpous.

The flowers emerge from the axils, are borne on short peduncle, and their width ranges between 2 and 3 cm.

Pollination

The Common Myrtle has self-fertile flowers, which are pollinated by insects (entomophilous species).

Fruit

The fruit is glossy berry with a length of 1.2 to 1.4 cm and a width of 0.7 to 1 cm. It has a rounded shape similar to a vase, where the central part is swollen, and at the outer part the remants of the persistent 5merous calyx are visible.

The fruit initially has a light green color, then turns dark red and finally at full ripeness acquires a dark violet hue.

Seeds

The seeds, 2.5-3 mm long, have a hard tegumentl, nephroid shape and pale yellow color.

The Common Myrtles unfold a specialized strategy of dispersing their seeds by birds, mammals, and ants.

Do not go through the phase of dormancy and therefore germination can occur immediately after dispersion, while the strategy of rapid establishment, may allow the plants to benefit from the rains of autumn and winter during the critical first stages of development.

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.)

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) - Climate and Soil

Temperature

The Common Myrtle has shown excellent adaptability to a large temperature range. As for the lowest temperatures, the plant can tolerant up to -5 to -9 °C, and if it is well established up to -12 °C – but in this case damage to the foliage may be observed.

In relation to the maximums, it does not face problems even in those areas where they reach 40+ °C. 

Soil and pH

The True Myrtle grows in a wide range of soils except heavy clay. It withstands both poor and gravelly soils, as well as saline ones, while it thrives in medium fertility sandy or sandy loam, which show excellent drainage.

In terms of pH it could be said that he prefers neutral or alkaline soils, ie those that take values between 7 and 8.3.     

Exposure

True Myrtles seek sunny places, although in very hot areas they can grow in partial shade.

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.)

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) - Pests & Diseases

The Common Myrtle in practice does not face problems from pests or diseases, however this is not a serious reason for the editorial team of "Kalliergeia" not to show artfully concealed knowledge.

Pests

Immediately below are recorded the most important pests of Common Myrtle.

Various Insects
  • Dialeurodes citri (Citrus Whitefly)
  • Epiphyas postvittana (Light Brown Apple Moth)
  • Retithrips syriacus (Black Vine Thrips)
Scales
  • Ceroplastes floridensis (Soft Scale)
  • Ceroplastes japonicus (Tortoise Wax Scale)
  • Ceroplastes rusci (Fig Wax Scale)
Mealybugs
  • Maconellicoccus hirsutus (Pink Hibiscus Mealybug)

With the use of appropriate preparations, the treatment of entomological pests is effective.

Diseases

After the pests, the recording of the diseases follows.

Fungi
  • Armillaria tabescens (Armillaria Root Rot)
Bacteria
  • Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris (Yellow Disease Phytoplasmas)
  • Pseudomonas savastanoi

Even with the timely use of appropriate preparations, their treatment is difficult.

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.)

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) - Toxicity & Allergenicity

Toxicity

The Myrtle has low toxicity. The ingestion of various plant parts may cause vomiting or diarrhea. The University of California has placed in the 2nd class of toxicity (Slightly Toxic).

Allergenicity

The plant is entomophilous and does not cause allergic reactions.

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.)

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) - Varieties

With the promise of a special tribute (!) only to the ornamental varieties of True Myrtle, here we are limited to the simple recording of the most important of them.

The Varieties of the Common Myrtle

  • Myrtus communis ‘Andy’s Hardy’
  • Myrtus communis ‘Pumila’
  • Myrtus communis ‘Variegata’
  • Myrtus communis ssp. tarentina 
  • Myrtus communis ssp. tarentina ‘Compacta Variegata’
  • Myrtus communis ssp. tarentina ‘Microphylla’’

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.)

Peeled Myrtus communis Trunk
Peeled Myrtus communis Trunk

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) - Use

The Common Myrtle is used not only in the garden and in the landscape, but also in many other sectors.

Distillery

In Sardinia, where the plant is very widespread with many natural populations, the fruits of True Myrtle are used to make the famous liqueur "Mirto".

Culinary

The ripe fruits are edible, with a sweet taste. The same goes for the flowers, which in Italy are either eaten raw or used in salads.

The leaves, fresh as well as dried, are used in Mediterranean and Oriental cuisine while the wood is used to give aroma, through smoking, to many local Mediterranean specialties, especially in Italy and the Middle Eastern countries.

Industrial & Craft Use

The essential oil of the plant is used in the food industry, in perfumery and in cosmetics.

The wood, which is of good quality, hard, solid and fine-grained, is used to make tools, sticks and furniture.

It is also used as firewood, while it also produces high quality charcoal.

Therapeutic & Pharmaceutical

Common Myrtle leaves and fruits have astringent, antiseptic, expectorant, antibacterial, antioxidant, antigenotoxic and hypoglycemic properties.

They contain tannins (14%) and essential oil (0.3-06%), which are formed mainly from myrtilol, quinol, alpha-Pinene, myrtenyl acetate and geraniol.

But more about the therapeutic and medicinal use of True Myrtle, the tireless reader of "Kalliergeia" can expect in the special tribute that we intend to do very soon.

Ethnobotany

For the ethnobotanical use of the True Myrtle’s plant parts, the optimistic reader of "Kalliergeia", let him wait here for the special tribute that we intend to do very soon – as soon as possible […].

Use in Garden and Landscape

In areas suitable for its growth, Common Myrtle can be planted in the garden, in parks and squares, as well as in large pots and planters.

Specifying, it could be said in general that the Common Myrtle is utilized:

  • Planted alone as a plant of special beauty
  • In plantations for the creation of dense hedges, pruned or free growth
  • In group garden or park plantings for the creation of shrubberies
  • In combination with other plants, such as, for example, Pink Rock-Rose (Cistus creticus), Masterwort ‘Lars’ (Astrantia major ‘Lars’), Common Sage (Salvia officinalis) and Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) - References

The References of the article which bears the fragrant title Common Myrtle or True Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) are presented by the great Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis with its musical composition of Μυρτιά (Myrtia – Myrtle) on lyrics by the important poet Nikos Gatsos through the Divine voice of Grigoris Bithikotsis. 

Play Video
  1. Aronne, G., & De Micco, V. (2004). Hypocotyl features of Myrtus communis (Myrtaceae): A Many-Sided Strategy for Possible Enhancement of Seedling Establishment in the Mediterranean Environment. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 145(2), 195-202.
  2. DeBaggio, T., & Tucker, A. O. (2009). The Encyclopedia of Herbs: A Comprehensive Reference to Herbs of Flavor and Fragrance. Timber Press.
  3. Jerkovic, I., Radonic, A., & Borcic, I. (2002). Comparative Study of Leaf, Fruit and Flower Essential Oils of Croatian Myrtus Communis (L.) During a One-Year Vegetative Cycle. Journal of Essential Oil Research, 14(4), 266-270. doi:10.1080/10412905.2002.9699849
  4. Lim, L. K. (2012). Edible Medicinal And Non Medicinal Plants: Volume 3, Fruits. Springer Science & Business Media.
  5. Γκανιάτσας, Κ. (1982). Συστηματική Βοτανική – Μέρος Β [Systematic Botany – Part B]. Θεσσαλονίκη.

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