Myrtus bonsai are tender, flowering plants in the genus Myrtus and the family Myrtacea. Commonly known as myrtle, these small evergreen shrubs and small trees were first described in 1753 by the father of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus. The genus consists of three species: Myrtus communis (common myrtle), Myrtus nivellei (Saharan myrtle) and Myrtus phyllireaefolia. The common myrtle is also known under the names true myrtle, bride’s myrtle, Roman myrtle, sweet myrtle, sweet Roman Myrtle and true Roman myrtle.
Myrtus plants are native to the Mediterranean region, parts of Africa (Eritrea, Tunisia, Chad, Algeria, Libya and Morocco), the western parts of Asia, India and Macaronesia (including Portugal and Spain). The earliest archeological and historical references related to this tree indicate that the common myrtle might have originated from Iran and Afghanistan.
The plant’s name Myrtus is of Ancient Greek origin, and is associated with the word “myron” which means “balm, ointment, chrism”. A deeper etymological analysis reveals links with the Hebrew word “mor” and the Arabic word “murr”. Both the words mean “bitter” or “bitterness,” and they are references to the tree gum or the resin.
Popular in bonsai are the dwarf varieties of Myrtus, especially Buxfolia, Compacta and Microphylla. Other widely known bonsai varieties are Tarentina Variegata (with yellow leaves), Leucocarpa (with white berries) and Tarentina (compact and bushy).
This ornamental plant is compact, erect and spherical shape. It has small, oval, dark-green, sharp and tough leaves, and delicate white, star-shaped, slightly-fragrant flowers. The flowers are solitary and hermaphroditic. The foliage is compact, symmetrical, of medium density and has fine texture. The bark is the color of cinnamon (sometimes described as grayish red-brown) and in older specimens it becomes furrowed and peels off. The surface of the trunk is smooth and thickens slowly.
The rounded fruit is small and edible. The seed is dark-blue to black, and contains about 30 seeds, which are dispersed by birds, ants and mammals which eat the berries. In Sardinia and Corsica, the berries are used to produce an indigenous aromatic liqueur. The typical height of a Myrtus tree in its native habitat is 1.5 to 1.8 meters, but in some cases it can grow up to five meters tall. The Myrtus tree has self-fertile flowers which are pollinated by various insects. This tree has a lifespan from fifty years, to well over a century.
The plant possesses very strong and positive symbolism. In Ancient Greece and Rome, myrtle was an emblem of the goddesses Aphrodite and Venus. Therefore, the myrtle flowers represented purity, innocence, love and generosity. Myrtle flowers were commonly used as bridal decorations during marriage ceremonies and celebrations. In Russia and Turkey, myrtle has been used in leather tanning. Myrtle has also been used for traditional medicinal purposes and for producing essential oil. Dried myrtle fruits and flowers are used in traditional Middle-Eastern cuisine as food flavoring.
This guide provides the foundations of Myrtus bonsai tree care.
How Long Does It Take To Grow Myrtus Bonsai?
Both in its natural habitat and as a cultivated species (bush, small tree or a bonsai tree), the Myrtus requires from ten to twenty years to attain full maturity. The time necessary to grow a strong and mature Myrtus bonsai varies based on the variety of the specimen, the climate, the growing conditions and the knowledge of the bonsai enthusiast. Yet patient and persistent commitment to this bonsai tree is quite a rewarding experience, as the bonsai can develop an intricate net of nicely shaped branches within a reasonable span of time.
How to Plant and Grow Myrtus Bonsai
Like most bonsai trees, the Myrtle bonsai, too, can be propagated either from seeds of from cuttings. Rarely, air-layering is also used. In the case of propagation from cuttings, it is recommended to use semi-hardwood cuttings performed in spring or summer. If the plant is propagated from a seed, the seeds should be planted immediately after being collected from the ripe berries. The seeds to not require any pre-sowing treatment. It should be noted, however, that growing a Myrtus tree from seeds is a challenging process. Namely, the Myrtus seeds are fickle and have a 50 percent germination rate. This germination rate is possible only under ideal conditions, which include moderate humidity, temperature of 25 to 30° C, and skillful use of substrate. If everything goes well, the seeds are expected to sprout and root within three to twelve weeks.
The myrtle bonsai tree requires plenty of light and air, although it can tolerate partial shade. It thrives best when placed outdoors during the growing season. During the hot summer months, however, it should be placed in semi-shade, especially at noon, to avoid damage to the foliage. When grown in regions with long and hot summers, the tree can flower profusely at the end of the season.
From the beginning of the autumn season, the plant should be sheltered indoors. It is best to keep the Myrtus bonsai at a room temperature of 10° C, either at a widow or in the south direction, so that it can continue to receive adequate light. The lowest temperature to which the common myrtle species can adapt is reportedly -5 to -9 °C, although in such extreme conditions severe damage to the foliage is expected. On the other hand, the plant thrives well in hot climates, even when the temperature reaches the extreme of 40+ °C.
Soil and Watering Needs
Myrtus bonsai trees require lime-free soil and water. Heavy-clay soil is to be avoided. Therefore, it is recommended to regularly use distilled water or rainwater for watering the plant, rather than tap water.
The soil should be neutral to acidic. Experts recommend adding peat of Kanuma to a standard soil mix. Some sources advise the use of a mixture of loam, sand and peat moss in the ratio of 1:2:1. Excess watering can also contribute to iron chlorosis. Once the plant is well established, it can be resilient to sporadic episodes of drought.
Moderate watering is recommended, letting the top soil layer go just slightly dry before watering the plant again. The rootball of this tree should always be moist, but never soaking in water. During the winter period, while the plant is undergoing its rest period, watering should be reduced. A good practice is to place the pot in a shallow tray containing gravel and little water. When this water evaporates, it keeps the air around the plant moist, lessening the drying impact which the indoors heating systems have on the plant.
The best practice is to apply general liquid fertilizer once a week, during the entire growing season. Foliar feeding is also recommended. During the winter, any fertilizing should be stopped. Exception to this rule applies to warmer geographical regions, where the average winter temperature exceeds 10° C, as long as there is visible growth on the plant.
How to Care for Your Myrtus Bonsai
The Myrtus bonsai can be trained to various bonsai styles, including formal and informal upright, clasped-to-rock, rock-over root, cascade and semi-cascade. However, this bonsai tree is most frequently seen in the broom-style. It grows vigorously and is quite tolerant to clipping. These characteristics make Myrtis bonsai particularly convenient for beginners.
Pruning, Pinching and Wiring
To maintain the shape of the bonsai, regular running is required. The Myrtus bonsai backbuds easily, even from old wood. Pruning (cutting back the leaves) should be performed once the flowering phase is over, and after the new shoots have given at least six to eight pairs of leaves. Not all the leaves should be removed; as long as a couple of leaves are left of a twig, new buds will continue to develop. Myrtus bonsai has the reputation of ramifying well. Cut paste can be applied on larger cut wounds.
Many bonsai enthusiasts consider pruning as a sufficient method to keep the bonsai tree in a good shape. Wiring, when opted for, can be done throughout the year. Wiring is easy when the shoots are young. Once the twigs and branches get older, they can easily crack and break, and thus wiring becomes much more difficult and risky.
Younger specimens should be repotted once every two to three years, or once the plant has overgrown its pot. Older specimens can be repotted less frequently—once in three to five years. The roots should be only lightly pruned.
Pests and Diseases
Myrtus bonsai is susceptible to a number of common pests, including mealy bug, scale and white fly. Trees kept outdoors are more resilient to these pests. However, with the start of the winter, when the plant is placed indoors, the risk of these pests increase due to dry air and lack of natural light. To prevent or treat the plant, pest-specific pesticides should be applied. Symptoms of insect invasion include the appearance of sooty mold on the foliage. Due to the specific bark of the tree, many infestations often go unnoticed until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage. If there is insufficient drainage, there is a high risk of developing root rot. The plant is also susceptible to certain bacteria, including the yellow disease phytoplasmas.