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Mr. Smarty Plants - Birds attracted to wax myrtles in Austin

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Tuesday - January 12, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildlife Gardens
Title: Birds attracted to wax myrtles in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hello! We are considering planting Wax Myrtles in our relatively small SW Austin backyard. I'm excited about its ability to create quick privacy, but I was wondering specifically, what types of birds will its berries attract? Also, will we have a huge abundance of birds "taking over" or "fighting" for these berries in our yard and therefore, lots of bird poop under and around the trees? I want to know what we're "in for" before planting this tree that is so attractive to birds.

ANSWER:

We once read that the wax myrtle attracted 42 different species of birds, but have never found actual documentation of that factoid. We do know from research that the berries on these bushes attract warblers (including myrtle warblers), tree swallows, cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds, chickadees, vireos, bob whites, flickers, robins and finches. That isn't 42, but about the best we can do. As for your questions about birds taking over or fighting over the berries, we think that is more likely to happen, especially in an urban situation, when you use birdseed feeders. Our personal experience is that the wax myrtle does not attract large birds, which would weigh down the very supple branches of Morella cerifera (wax myrtle). The plague for urban bird feeders is the dove and its relative, the pigeon, with the pigeons being far and away the most offensive. Pigeons are immigrants from Europe, imported to this continent to serve as food animals and message carriers. They will drive away the smaller birds and certainly leave a mess behind. Planting the wax myrtle in the garden will mean that whatever droppings there are will go into the soil as a natural fertilizer, instead of big splots on your porch. 

Now, on to the tricky part, getting berries on the plants you purchase at the nursery. The truth of the matter is, all of the wax myrtle plants at the nursery probably do have berries, because they are all females. Customers generally want the berries, because of the attractions to birds, and you may find it difficult to locate a male for purchase. The nursery trade reproduces many of the woody plants, including wax myrtle, by cloning, so that all the plants are females, exact copies of the parent plant.  As we mentioned, the plants at the nursery are likely all female; they have berries when they are placed in the nursery, because they have been pollinated in the growers' fields before being shipped to the nursery. However, comes the next Fall, with no nearby male, the females will have no berries, and will be indistinguishable from males. Both males and females bloom, only the pollinated female has berries. Generally, one male plant can pollinate any number of females within about a 40-ft. radius. Unfortunately, the nursery staff may not have a clue what you are talking about, and possibly will assure you the plants will all have berries. We would suggest you go to our National Suppliers Directory, put your town and state in the "Enter Search Location" box, and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed suppliers and consultants in your general area. They all have contact information and you can find out which ones either will have or can get you some male plants to assure your birds will have berries.  

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Morella cerifera

Morella cerifera

Morella cerifera

Morella cerifera

 

 

 

 

 

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