Seven Stereotypes About Bayberry That Aren’t Always True

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For centuries, bayberry has had a reputation for being the quintessential Christmas tree. As the most popularly cultivated evergreen in the country, it’s no wonder that this small shrub is often mistaken for a pine tree. But how much do you really know about bayberries?

Bayberries are actually not even trees. Underneath its gnarled branches and stringy red berries, these plants are made up of woody stems with smaller leaves surrounding them. If you’ve ever smelled some bayberries before, you might remember that they have a pleasant apple-like odor to them. But don’t confuse the bark of bayberries with that of pine trees. The scent of pine begins to give way once you get a few feet away from the tree. The scent of bayberry is what you get when all you can smell is the plant and its bark.

The type of evergreen that bayberries are classified as, however, isn’t a tree at all. The word evergreen is derived from the ancient Latin word “everte” meaning “springing back again.” Bayberries are named after their call to mind– they do indeed spring back again after being cut down and planted. The first people in North America who used bayberry as a Christmas decoration and tree had no idea when they cut down their first “evergreen” that it would take them five months to replant it.

Seven Stereotypes About Bayberry That Aren’t Always True :

1. The berries of the bayberry are poisonous.

The berries of the bayberry are poisonous. The berries do not taste sweet but bitter to the tongue and cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea when eaten. They should be considered dangerous to children and pets. People who harvest bayberry for medicinal purposes should take extra caution when doing so to avoid accidental ingestion of the toxic berry. 

2. Bayberry is a shade tolerant plant that can grow in the full sun.

Bayberry is a shade tolerant plant that can grow in the full sun. It seems like bayberries will grow no matter what, but this is another misconception– bayberries need a great deal of sunlight and won’t take to being overgrown by other plants around it.

3. Only evergreen trees grow in mountainous regions.

Only evergreen trees grow in mountainous regions and can withstand the harsh winters there. This idea is just as false as the one that says a bayberry is a tree. No matter where you live, bayberry can be found growing naturalized in fine gardens throughout the U.S.

4. Bayberry was used as a Christmas decoration for Native Americans because of its resemblance to pine trees.

Bayberry was used as a Christmas decoration for Native Americans because of its resemblance to pine trees, but it was mostly used at funerals and on special occasions due to its strong, pleasant scent and its characteristics of being able to grow no matter what.

5. Bayberry was used as a medicine to treat scrofula (also known as king’s evil or Shrove Tuesday disease).

Bayberry was used as a medicine to treat scrofula (also known as king’s evil or Shrove Tuesday disease) in the late 1700s through the early 1900s. It was believed that bayberry had some ability to be a treatment for this disease, but whether or not it actually did is still debated amongst historians. There is a small possibility that bayberry may have been used as an alternative medicine against scrofula, but there is no way of knowing without direct chemical analysis.

6. A bayberry Christmas tree should be trimmed in the next few weeks before Christmas.

The best time to trim your bayberry Christmas tree is on December 20. This date is because this is the date that the new growth on your bayberry has reached such a stage of development that it will be able to survive another holiday season even with any temporary damage done by trimming or other types of pruning. 

You must not cut off any limbs earlier than this, however, as doing so can result in significant loss of life and branches. The remaining living branches should be trimmed again after January 1st to ensure that they are healthy enough to survive another winter without dying off prematurely in harsher climates like the Northeast.

7. Bayberry can be used as a hedge

Bayberry can be used as a hedge as well as a landscape plant, but it should never be planted in an area where it will be trimmed regularly. To use bayberry as a hedge, you would definitely have to keep an eye on the growth of the plant, trimming it once every three years or so.

The plants that are commonly called bayberries are not actually evergreens– they are shrubs that flower and bloom in the spring and summer months. These shrubs may grow anywhere from 2-6 feet in height depending on the cultivar.

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