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Encyclopedia > Myrtus

Myrtus communis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Myrtales
Family: Myrtaceae
Genus: Myrtus

Myrtus communis L.
Myrtus nivellei Batt. & Trab.

The Myrtles (Myrtus) are a genus of two species of flowering plants in the family Myrtaceae, native to southern Europe and north Africa. They are evergreen shrubs or small trees, with a pleasantly fragrant essential oil in their leaves. Flower parts are in multiples of five, with an amazingly large number of stamens. Petals are usually white, with globose blue-black berries. The flowers are pollinated by insects, and the seeds dispersed by birds which feed on the berries.

The Common Myrtle, Myrtus communis, is widespread in the Mediterranean region and is also by far the most commonly cultivated. The other species, Saharan Myrtle, M. nivellei, is restricted to the Tassili n'Ajjer mountains in southern Algeria and the Tibesti Mountains in Chad, where it occurs in small areas of sparse relict woodland near the centre of the Sahara Desert; it is listed as an endangered species. However, some plant taxonomists are not convinced that M. nivellei represents a distinct species.

Common Myrtle (Myrtus communis) from Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885
Common Myrtle (Myrtus communis)
from Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885

The plants are grown for myrtle oil, used in perfume manufacture, and as ornamental shrubs used in xeriscaping, where they are valued for their tolerance of hot, dry summers. For example, M. communis thrives on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, where the summer temperatures can reach 45°C.

Many other related species native to South America, New Zealand and elsewhere, previously classified in a wider interpretation of the genus Myrtus, are now treated in other genera, Eugenia, Lophomyrtus, Luma, Rhodomyrtus, Syzygium and Ugni, and at least a dozen other genera.

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