Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Sweet-gale - Myrica gale   L.
Members of Myricaceae:
Only member of Myrica in NC.
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Section 6 » Order Myricales » Family Myricaceae
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DistributionKnown historically and currently only from Henderson County, in the southern Mountains – a remarkable southward disjunction from its main range.

This is a Far North species, occurring in most Canadian provinces south only to NJ, northern PA, northern IL, and coastal OR. Thus, it is disjunct southward from PA and NJ by at least 400 miles.
AbundanceExtremely rare, and known now from just a single site. It was relatively common at that site in the 1990s, but by 2014 the population was quite low and suffering from competition from taller woody species. A site visit in 2023 yielded 100 or more plants. Apparently it was known from two nearby sites many decades ago, but it is extirpated from those. This is possibly the rarest woody plant species in the state, and it is rightfully listed as State Endangered.
HabitatIt is strictly limited to bogs in the state. However, the plants grow in areas with other shrubs and woody vines, and not in the middle in lower herbaceous vegetation. Thus, it is always in danger of being shaded out by taller woody species.
PhenologyFlowers in April, and fruits in August and September.
IdentificationThis is a low-growing deciduous shrub ranging mostly to just 2-3 feet tall, and has a rather bushy look. It has small, alternate, oblanceolate leaves that have a few teeth near the tip; they grow only to about 2 inches long. Plants often contain numerous axillary flowers or fruits, as well as some such inflorescences on the tips of branchlets. If this plant were to grow in our Coastal Plain, it would be easily overlooked as a Morella species such as Common Waxmyrtle (M.cerifera) or Dwarf Waxmyrtle (M. pumila). However, no such plants grow in mountain bogs, in Henderson County, and thus a knee-high plant looking like a bayberry or waxmyrtle should be this species. It does grow in colonies, though it is not stoloniferous.
Taxonomic CommentsA few decades ago (e.g., RAB 1968), it was generally known as Gale palustris. Interestingly, it has since been moved into the genus that formerly held the bayberries and waxmyrtles (Myrica), but these shrubs have since been moved into Morella.

Other Common Name(s)Bog-myrtle. As with many species, the use of a hyphen, versus one run-together word, or two separate words, is at issue here. This website often splits the difference, with a hyphen, where there is usage of all three names (i.e., Sweetgale, Sweet-gale, and Sweet Gale). At times, using two separate words gives a “meaningless” group name, such as here. “Gale” does not represent a taxonomic plant group name, and thus the use of two separate words is biologically improper.
State RankS1
Global RankG5
State StatusE
US Status
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B.A. SorriePhoto taken in Plymouth, MA, 1970s. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
B.A. SorriePhoto taken in Upper Peninsula of MI, 2018. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
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