This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol5-6", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Though unknown in a fossil state in England Bog Myrtle is found in the Oak Zone in Gothland and elsewhere. In the N. Temperate Zone it is found in W. and N.W. Europe, N. Asia, and N. America. In Great Britain it is absent in the Peninsula province in Somerset; in the Channel province in N. Wilts; in the Thames province in Essex, Herts, Oxford, Anglia, but not in Northants; in S. Wales it is absent in Brecon and Radnor; in N. Wales; in the Trent province not occurring in Leics, and Rutland, or Derby; in the Mersey province not in Mid Lancs; in the Humber province not in N.W. York; in the Tyne province not in Durham; in the Lakes district; W. Lowlands; in the E. Lowlands only in Edinburgh; in the E. Highlands not in Stirling; W. Highlands, N. Highlands; in the North Isles, except in Shetlands, or from Caithness to Cornwall; elsewhere in the Highlands it is found at 1800 ft. It is a native of Ireland.
Bog Myrtle in name indicates its habitat, which is essentially paludal, and the plant is a decided xerophyte, adapted to drought like other bog plants; as with other bog species, too, it is frequent also on moors where there is less moisture.
The plant is shrubby, small though it be, usually smooth and erect, with lance-shaped, inversely egg-shaped, smooth leaves, which are more or less coarsely-toothed, and bitter in taste, shortly stalked, downy beneath.
The flowers are in spikes, with bracts, the male ones in spikes crowded and erect, with broad, egg-shaped, hollow, leaflike organs, and red anthers, the female having red styles. The berry, a drupe, is 2-winged, small, and lens-shaped.
The plant is 2-4 ft. in height. The flowers bloom in May, June, and July. Bog Myrtle is a deciduous shrub, propagated by layers.
The plant is usually dioecious, but the flowers may be complete.
Photo. Dr. Somervilie Hastings - Bog Myrtle (Myrica Gale, L.)
The flowers are in short catkins. The male has 2 bracteoles and 4 stamens, and the female has 4 bracteoles, 2 syncarpous carpels, and 1 orthotropous ovule. The flowers are pollinated by the wind. The styles are stigmatic all over. The anthers open outwards, and are fixed by the base. The pollen is powdery, held by the catkin scales till it is blown away. The drupe, containing a 1-seeded stone, may be dispersed by birds or by the wind, being enclosed in a winged perianth.
A beetle, Orchestes iota, several Lepidoptera, Light Knot Grass (Acronvcta menyanthidis), Sweet Gale Moth (A. myricoe), Rosy Marvel (Noctua subrosea), Antithesia dimidiana, Tortrix viburnana, Anchy-lopera siculana, Peronoea lipsiana, Euchromia arbutella, Sericoris poli-tana, Powdered Quaker (Orthosia gracilis), Argent and Sable (Cidaria hastata), Coleophora orbitella, and a Heteropterous insect, Lygus spinoloe, are found on it.
Myrica, Theophrastus, is the Greek name for tamarisk, and the specific name is the same as an English name of the plant.
Sweet Gale is called Candleberry Myrtle, Devonshire Myrtle, Dutch Myrtle, Gale, Gales, Gall, Gall-bushes, Gaul, Gawan, Gold, Golden Osier, Golden Withy, Gole, Goule, Gow, Goyle, Moor Myrtle, Moss Wythan, Myrtle, Burren Myrtle, Scotch Gale, Stinking Willow, Wild Sumac, Sweet Willow, Withwind, Withwine. As to Gale, there is a place called Gale moor, from the prevalence of the plant, near Whitchurch, Salop. It is called Sweet Gale from its sweet aromatic odour. Gall is so called from the plant having been supposed to be the gall in Scripture. Gerarde says as to the name Gaul: "This gaule groweth plentifully in sandy places of England, as in the Isle of Elie, and in the Fennie countries thereabouts, whereof there is such store in that country, that they make fagots of it and sheaves which they call Gaule sheaves to burne and heate their ovens".
The leaves are bitter and used in place of hops, but fragrant, and yield an essential oil. The catkins boiled are suitable for making candles. If not boiled a long time Bog Myrtle causes a headache. Calf-skins used to be tanned with it. It dyes wool yellow. It was used in Sweden to kill bugs and lice, and to cure the itch, and in Wales branches were laid under the beds for this purpose. It was used as a vermifuge. They use it as a garnish in Islay and Jura, and lay it between linen to perfume it and keep away moth. It has been used for besoms.
Essential Specific Characters: 281. Myrica Gale, L. - Bushy shrub, leaves lanceolate, obovate, serrate, catkins reddish, sessile, fruit with resinous glands, small.