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An evergreen, very leafy shrub up to 10 or 12 ft high, sometimes a small tree; young wood downy. Leaves opposite, ovate or lanceolate, pointed, 1 to 2 in. long, 1⁄3 to 3⁄4 in. wide, dark glossy green above, paler beneath, glabrous on both sides, fragrant when crushed, and covered with transparent dots, margins entire, decurved; stalk very short or none. Flowers white, 3⁄4 in. across, fragrant, nearly always solitary on a slender stalk 3⁄4 to 1 in. long, arising from the leaf-axils, the most conspicuous features being the crowded stamens 1⁄3 in. long, produced in a brush-like cluster, and the five rounded petals; calyx green, with five erect, short, broadly ovate lobes. Fruit a purplish black berry, roundish oblong, 1⁄2 in. in length (white in variety leucocarpa DC.).
The common myrtle is now very abundant in S. and E. Europe and the Mediterranean region generally, but is believed to have been introduced there from W. Asia, probably Persia or Afghanistan. It was probably one of the first shrubs introduced to our islands from the Levant, and was well known in the 16th century. One of the favourite plants of the ancients, and held sacred by them to the goddess of Love, a sprig of myrtle still carries its ancient significance in being indispensable in the composition of wedding bouquets. It is not hardy except in the mildest parts of the country, but thrives well upon a south wall. It blossoms usually in July and August.
Of the several varieties of myrtle, which vary in the colour of the fruit (sometimes yellowish white) and in the form of the leaves, the following only need be mentioned here. Most of them pertain rather to the cold greenhouse than the open air.