Northern Bayberry (Pensylvanica)

The Northern Bayberry (Pensylvanica) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Northern Bayberry (Pensylvanica) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Northern Bayberry (Pensylvanica) will reach up to 12 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 9 feet.

The Northern Bayberry (Pensylvanica) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -28°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Colonies of this salt spray tolerant shrub provide excellent secondary stabilization and cover to the back dune areas of the mid-Atlantic coastline. Bayberry is used effectively in hedges, wildlife borders, and on road banks. Because some leaves remain on the plant throughout most of the winter months, it provides year-round shelter for game and non-game animals alike. The berries provide a key energy source for swallows migrating south along the mid-Atlantic coast. These fruit are retained on the plant well into winter above any accumulated snow, making them readily available for bobwhite quail, ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasant and numerous songbirds to consume.

The highly scented fruit of bayberry was a source of wax for early settlers in America. This scent is still used in candle making. The aromatic fruit laden branches, bare of leaves, have often been utilized for residential decoration in fall and winter.

General Characteristics

Bayberry is an upright shrub, which is typically 5 to 8 feet in height, except on sand dunes and poor quality sites. The species has male and female plants. Flowers occur in early spring and are not showy. Female plants produce numerous small, blue-grey, waxy round fruit in the fall.

Required Growing Conditions

Bayberry is a native of the eastern coastal zone. Although adapted to a variety of soil conditions, it performs best on light textured soils. It naturally spreads to bare soil areas of sandy soils, but not into sod or cultivated sites. As one travels south in bayberry’s native range (south of Delaware) its dominance is given up to another species, wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera). This species is similar in appearance, but has smaller fruit and narrower elongated leaves.

Cultivation and Care

Due to bayberry’s intolerance to competing vegetation, other vegetative cover must be removed or controlled prior to planting. One or two year old nursery grown bare-root or containerized seedling stock should be used for all purposes. Mulching around newly established seedlings aids in moisture retention and weed control. To assure seed production, both male and female plants must be established in close proximity to one another. Unfortunately seedling sex can not be determined before maturity, so several seedlings should be planted in the same area. Plant one or two rows for borders and hedges, at two to four foot spacings. For roadside plantings, establish at three foot spacings. Fertilization on most sites is not necessary, and often will promote non-target species.Seedlings are easily produced on raised beds in fall, planted once the soil temperature has gone below 40 degrees F. Using a maximum of 4 grams of pure live seed (PLS) per square foot of bed, will produce adequate numbers of quality seedlings.

General Upkeep and Control

Bayberry is a natural selection for conservation plantings and for landscaping on coastal sands. Though not a legume, it does fix nitrogen and is an important constituent for revegetation efforts. In conservation plantings, this shrub does best where it is allowed to spread naturally by root suckers and where sand is accumulated. The nitrogen that becomes available over time will encourage other vegetation- generally a good thing unless invasive species show up. Shade from taller vegetation will not be tolerated by bayberry and the stand will be reduced.

In landscape plantings, bayberry should be allowed to grow naturally with minimal pruning. Attempts to confine it or shape it will usually reduce its vigor and may eventually lead to problems. Disease and insects are not usually severe pests, especially where grown with other back dune vegetation.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin) Only one cultivar of bayberry has been developed: ‘Wildwood’ (NJ and NC). This cultivar was developed and released by the Cape May PMC in 1992. It is the product of open crossing of four native selections of the mid-Atlantic region. Foundation seed and breeders stock plants can be obtained by nurseries from the Cape May PMC, in Cape May Court House, NJ. Planting stock of ‘Wildwood’ and common bayberry can be obtained through numerous native plant nurseries.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Period Spring
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Colonizing
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 12
Vegetative Spread Slow
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -28
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 5.5–7.8 pH
Precipitation Range 32–32 inches/yr
Planting Density 1210–2722 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 20
Minimum Frost-Free Days 140 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Medium
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA