Myrtle flower has been known to people since ancient times and it has a very special place in the classical era, in mythology, folklore, medicine, and much more.
Myrtle is featured in various rituals, including the wedding ceremony.
This lovely shrub decorates our gardens, since the times of Ancient Rome.
It is native to the Mediterranean region and North Africa and has great importance in the cultural traditions of these regions.
Ancient Greeks and Romans had myrtle in high regard, as they associated it with the nicest of feelings and ideas, those of romance, love, and innocence.
The symbolism from ancient times has been maintained by English gardeners, once they got familiar with the plant in the late 16th century.
Myrtle is used in culinary tradition, gardening and rituals.
If you would like to plant a nice-looking myrtle hedge, it should not be too demanding; myrtle is a relatively low-maintenance plant that would not use much of your time.
Myrtle Flower Facts
Myrtle is a common name for the Myrtus genus, a genus of flowering plants belonging to the family of Myrtaceae.
Like many other plants, it was first described by the famous botanist Linnaeus in the eighteenth century.
It is interesting to note that there were over six hundred different names proposed to be given to this genus, but almost all have been taken as synonyms or were awarded to other genera.
The genus of myrtle does not have many species, only three that we know of today.
The three species under the Myrtus genus are the common myrtle, Saharan myrtle, and the specie known in botany as Myrtus phyllireafolia.
The common myrtle is quite a popular shrub plant. You can often see it in gardens and around parks.
It is a common plant used for hedges, of very attractive foliage and overall nice appearance.
It presents lovely white flowers, if not regularly trimmed.
One of the myrtle subspecies has received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
The subspecies is known as Myrtus communis tarentina.
Myrtle has been known since ancient times, recognized, and appreciated for its culinary and medicinal purposes.
Like many other plants of excellent and useful properties, myrtle is often featured in mythology and folk beliefs.
Myrtle in culinary tradition
In Sardinia and Corsica, common myrtle is used for making an alcoholic beverage, a liqueur known by the name Mirto, after the plant.
It is an aromatic beverage made by macerating the myrtle in alcohol.
There are two varieties of the popular liqueur, the red one, mirto rosso, and white one, mirto bianco.
The color difference is caused by the different parts of the plant used in maceration, either the berries or the flowers.
Myrtle berries are a common ingredient in various Mediterranean meat dishes. Myrtle berries are also being used to substitute for pepper.
You can find them in delicious Italian mortadella and its American variety, the so-called Bologna sausage.
Myrtle branches are used for baking dried figs in Calabria. The figs would be pierced and threaded on a myrtle branch.
When baked in this manner, they get a very aromatic and nice taste coming from myrtle essential oils found in the branch.
Medicinal properties of myrtle
Myrtle is mentioned in the writings of notable ancient scholars, amongst which those of Hippocrates, Galen, Dioscorides, and Pliny.
Several Arabian texts also speak about myrtle, in terms of its medicinal use.
The plant is rich in salicylic acid, which led ancient people to the conclusion that it could be used for the treatment of certain skin issues, such as troubles with the scalp.
Celsus mentions a mixture of labdanum and oil of myrtle and wine used for such a purpose.
Myrtle has also been used to treat respiratory problems, sinus infections, in particular.
However, there is not sufficient data to prove if myrtle is in some way more beneficial than other herbal medications.
Myrtle garden history
Myrtle has been planted in gardens since the time of Ancient Rome.
Romans appreciated its nice appearance and pleasant fragrance, so this plant was frequently used to decorate Roman gardens, for both its elegant looks and sacred meaning of the plant.
Myrtle became a symbol of home for Romans, so they would plant it wherever they settle.
They wanted to have something that would always remind them of their home and their tradition and mythology.
English gardening is known around the world and myrtle has a special place in it.
Its history in England is associated with Sir Walter Raleigh and his return from Spain in the late sixteenth century.
Myrtle was not familiar yet, just as lemons, oranges, and pomegranates.
The great minister of Queen Elizabeth wrote to Paris, asking for instructions for growing lemons, pomegranates, and myrtle.
Since the late sixteenth century, myrtle has become more and more popular in England.
Over the next two centuries, myrtle was grown in pots and cases, held in the garden during the warm summer months, and in orangery during the cold season.
There are plants in other parts of the world, which have b previously been classified as belonging to the Myrtus genus.
However, they were moved to other genera.
Nevertheless, the name has been used to refer to other, unrelated plants.
Creeping myrtle, crepe myrtle, and wax myrtle do not belong to the Myrtus genus, but they carry the name of the common Myrtus genus members.
Myrtle Growth and Care
Native to North Africa and the Mediterranean basin, myrtle has been popular since very ancient times.
Greeks and Romans much appreciated the plant and used it for culinary and for medicinal purposes. To this day, myrtle has been favored and loved by many.
How does myrtle looks and how to grow and take care of it? Myrtle has dark-green leaves, of small size and lanceolate.
They are shiny and hard, leather-like. Myrtle shrub is known for its fragrant lovely white flowers.
It blooms in late summer days and it requires a pretty warm and long summer season to produce flowers.
In autumn, it gives edible dark-purple berries that best remind of blueberries.
Myrtle naturally grows as a bush, but it could be made into a shrub or a little tree, even a bonsai, with a little training.
It could grow pretty tall, up to sixteen feet, depending, of course, on the conditions.
If you are interested in planting and taking care of myrtle, there are many options to do that.
Myrtle could be planted as a hedge, in containers, a bed and it could also stand alone.
In general, myrtle tolerates draught and does not require too much maintenance.
Light and soil
The best location for planting myrtle would be a nice spot facing south, as the plant loves full sun and fares well in partial sunlight, as well.
It needs to be sheltered from cold winds, with a drying effect.
If you opt for growing a bonsai version of myrtle, one that you keep in a pot indoors, make sure you provide it with enough light.
During hot summer months, keep it outdoors in a partial shade. Once the summer is over, bring it into a cooler room, with a lot of light.
Common myrtle requires a bit of moisture, but definitely not wet soil.
Like many other plants, it requires good drainage, in order to establish itself, grow and progress properly. Loam compost would be the best option for establishing the plant.
You should plant it under glass and give it enough well-filtered light.
Myrtle is a pretty adaptable plant, so it does well in sand or clay soil, but if you want the best result, take the advice aforementioned.
Highly alkaline soil could lead to iron chlorosis, so you should adapt the pH of the soil, to avoid damage.
If you grow myrtle outdoors, fertilizer should be used only once a year, in the first days of spring.
If you grow it indoors, fertilizer should be used frequently, over the growing season; once a week is recommended frequency.
Observe its growth during the winter; if it progresses, use fertilizer as well, though once in two weeks.
Temperature, humidity and water
Myrtle does not tolerate frost very well and prefers warmer climates.
However, it does not like much humidity, so keep that in mind.
When it comes to watering, its root ball requires frequent watering, approximately one time a week.
Young plants should be treated this way.
However, make sure you do not overwater it.
Older plants are more drought tolerant and you will do well if you water them once in two weeks or even once a month.
Over-watering the plant could lead to the aforementioned iron chlorosis.
Another thing to keep in mind, myrtle is not very tolerant of lime found in tap water.
The best advice would be to collect rainwater, which would greatly benefit your myrtle.
Propagation and repotting
Myrtle could be propagated by seeds or cuttings. If you want to propagate it by seeds, sow them in autumn, in a cold frame.
Once you notice the first shoots, remove those that do not flower.
The flowering shoots should be cleared from buds and then planted into a mixture of compost and sand.
Place them away from direct sun rays, which could damage the tender new plant.
It takes up to twelve weeks maximum for roots to establish.
Once it happens, you can pot them and keep them indoors over the first winter.
With the coming of spring, you can plant them wherever you feel like, be it in a new pot indoors or your garden.
If you opt for growing a bonsai indoors myrtle tree, you should know how and when to repot the plant.
Myrtle should be repotted every two to three years, depending on its progress. It stands for the younger plants.
Older plants do not need repotting before the third or even fifth year. Make sure the soil mixture does not contain lime.
Pruning is required if you want to stylize your myrtle. It should be done once the blooming phase is over.
If you grow a bonsai myrtle or a topiary one, you will need to prune it more frequently, to train its growth.
Common pests and diseases
Myrtle is quite a pest-resistant plant. Small sucking insects could, however, attack it outdoors.
Spider mites have also been found to attack myrtle, but only if the climate allows it. A very hot and dry season could lead to their attacks.
Indoor myrtle is more prone to pests if it is not kept in appropriate conditions.
Low light, too-humid air, and a too-warm room may make it prone to pest attacks.
Make sure you provide your plant with the best conditions possible. It is generally not a demanding plant.
Myrtle Species and Varieties
As we have mentioned, there are three myrtle species, but there are also certain varieties of the plant.
Here are the most common and the most popular ones.
Myrtus communis – The common myrtle is native to the Mediterranean area, the archipelagos of Macaronesia, and to western parts of Asia and India. It is an evergreen tree or shrub, with leaves loaded with aromatic essential oils.
Its flowers are shaped like stars, usually white and they have many stamens.
The fruits of common myrtle are dark purple berries, although there is also a variety of dark yellow ones. Pollination is done by insects, while birds disperse the seeds.
Myrtus nivellei – The Saharan myrtle, known as tefeltest in the Tuareg language is a specie endemic to the desert of the Sahara, precisely, the mountains in its central parts. Saharan myrtle grows in the south of Algeria and northern parts of Chad.
This species is found in relicts of woodlands that grow in mountainous parts of the central Sahara.
Tuareg people appreciate it very much and use it for medicinal purposes. Saharan myrtle is a traditional herbal medicine for Tuaregs.
Myrtus communis ‘Tarentina’ – Tarentum myrtle, the awarded one, is a very nice-looking sub-specie, usually used in gardening.
It is compact and bushy, so it gives the space an extraordinary appearance. It could grow 3-6 ft in height and 3-6 ft in width.
Myrtus communis ‘Tarentina variegata’ – This one is simply a variety of the previous one.
It grows in a similar manner as the original one, but its leaves are of paler yellow leaves, adorned with lovely green stripes.
Myrtus communis dwarf varieties – There are several dwarf varieties of the common myrtle, with characteristics of the original plants, only smaller in size.
Myrtle Mythology and Symbolism
Myrtle has a very prominent place in mythology and beliefs around the world.
Starting from the classical era, the myrtle was highly praised by the ancient Greeks, associated with the goddess of love, beautiful Aphrodite, and with the goddess of earth and fertility, Demeter.
It is attested in Greek texts that dreaming of myrtle is a good sign.
It is an auspicious sign for women and for farmers, because of its connection to the goddesses Demeter and Aphrodite.
The myrtle and the rose flower were considered sacred to Aphrodite.
Myrtle is also associated with a minor deity lacchus, one in connection with the procession of Eleusian mysteries.
Ancient Romans associated myrtle with Aphrodite’s Roman counterpart, Venus. Myrtle was also featured in wedding rituals.
According to Aeneid, a myrtle shrub was growing on the grave of Polydorus, resembling the spears by which he was killed.
When Aeneas tried to take out the shrub, the earth started bleeding, saying him to leave it.
Myrtle is considered a sacred plant in Jewish tradition and it is used in Jewish liturgy.
As a fragrant, but not very tasteful plant, it symbolically represents those who are not profound in their knowledge of Torah but still make good deeds.
In Jewish mysticism, myrtle stands for masculine energy.
Myrtle branches are given to bridegrooms on their first wedding night.
Myrtle is also associated with the garden of Eden. Myrtle is commonly used in wedding bouquets all over Europe.
It is interesting to note that myrtle is very popular in neo-pagan cults, including Wicca.
Although it is not native to the parts of Europe celebrating May Day, it is now commonly associated with this particular day and its feast.
Myrtle Color Symbolism and Meaning
Myrtle flowers are white. White flowers have always been associated with purity, gentleness, peace, kindness, grace, and honesty.
Considering the rich symbolism of myrtle in various traditions we have recounted above, its color only adds to the overall meaning.
Flowers of myrtle, white and gentle, are associated with love, marriage, passion, grace, and blessing, with spirituality and mystery.
Myrtle is associated with romance and devotion, since the time of Ancient Greece.
White flowers of myrtle could also be associated with rebirth and growth.
Associated with Demeter, the goddess of earth, abundance, fertility, harvest, and richness of the land, myrtle stands for all of these.
It blooms late in the summer, after a long and nice warm season. It symbolizes abundance and growth.
As a wedding bouquet flower, myrtle keeps its ancient symbolism up to this day.
Royal British wedding ceremonies would always feature myrtle in wedding bouquets.