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myrtle

myrtle, common name for the Myrtaceae, a family of shrubs and trees almost entirely of tropical regions, especially in America and Australia. The family is characterized by leaves (usually evergreen) containing aromatic volatile oils. Many have showy blossoms. Although of lesser importance in the United States, the family is of considerable economic value throughout the world for timber, gums and resins, oils, spices, and edible fruits.

The true myrtle genus (Myrtus) is predominantly of the American tropics, but the classical myrtle (M. communis) is native to the Mediterranean area. It is a strongly scented bush whose glossy leaves and blue-black berries were made into wreaths for victors in the ancient Olympic games. (In America several unrelated plants are also called myrtles, e.g., the sand myrtle of the heath family, the periwinkles of the dogbane family, and several species of the bayberry family.) Among the many trees of the myrtle family yielding edible fruit, only the guava (genus Psidium), native to tropical America, is grown commercially in the United States.

The most important spice plants of the family are the clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum or Eugenia caryophyllata), native to the Moluccas and the Spice Islands, and the tropical American Pimenta genus that includes the pimento or allspice (P. officinalis or dioica) and the bay rum tree (P. racemosa), source of an oil used as an ingredient of bay rum. Some hardwood members of the myrtle family are among the many trees known as ironwood, e.g., Eugenia confusa, of Florida and tropical America.

Eucalyptus, a large genus of evergreen shrubs and trees, is a characteristic component of the flora in its native Australia, where it is the leafy haunt and sole food source of the koala, often associated with it in story. Among its many common names are ironbark, bloodwood, and gum tree (a name also applied to many unrelated trees). Numerous species, especially the Tasmanian blue gum (E. globulus), are now naturalized in the W United States and have become the distinctive vegetation of many California areas that were previously treeless. In Australia several species are among the tallest trees known, e.g., E. regnans, known as the mountain ash or giant ash, the tallest flowering tree, which reaches a height of over 300 ft (91 m). The generally accepted record for the tallest mountain ash is 375 ft (114,3 m), for a tree that was felled in 1881. Eucalyptus trees are a valuable source of timber, of kinos (a resinous substance used in medicines and tanning), and of eucalyptol and other essential and medicinal oils.

The myrtle family is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Myrtales.

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myrtle

myr·tle / ˈmərtl/ • n. 1. an evergreen shrub (Myrtus communis) that has glossy aromatic foliage and white flowers followed by purple-black oval berries. The myrtle family (Myrtaceae) also includes several aromatic plants (clove, allspice) and many characteristic Australian plants (eucalyptus trees, bottlebrushes). 2. the lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor). ORIGIN: late Middle English: from medieval Latin myrtilla, myrtillus, diminutive of Latin myrta, myrtus, from Greek murtos.

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myrtle

myrtle Any of numerous species of evergreen shrubs and trees that grow in tropical and subtropical regions, especially the aromatic shrub, Myrtus communis, of the Mediterranean region. Its leaves are simple and glossy; the purple-black berries, which follow the white flowers, were once dried and used like pepper. Family Myrtaceae.

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myrtle

myrtle † myrtle-berry XIV; plant of the genus Myrtus XVI. — medL. myrtilla, -us, dim. of L. myrta, -us — Gr. múrtos.

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myrtle

myrtle sacred to the goddess Venus, myrtle was used as an emblem of love.

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myrtle

myrtlebattle, cattle, chattel, embattle, prattle, rattle, Seattle, tattle •fractal •cantle, covenantal, mantel, mantle, Prandtl •pastel • Fremantle • tittle-tattle •startle, stratal •Nahuatl •fettle, kettle, metal, mettle, nettle, petal, Popocatépetl, settle •dialectal, rectal •dental, gentle, mental, Oriental, parental, rental •transeptal •festal, vestal •gunmetal •antenatal, fatal, hiatal, natal, neonatal, ratel •beetle, betel, chital, decretal, fetal •blackbeetle •acquittal, belittle, brittle, committal, embrittle, it'll, kittle, little, remittal, skittle, spittle, tittle, victual, whittle •edictal, rictal •lintel, pintle, quintal •Bristol, Chrystal, crystal, pistol •varietal • coital • phenobarbital •orbital • pedestal • sagittal • vegetal •digital • skeletal • Doolittle •congenital, genital, primogenital, urogenital •capital • lickspittle • hospital • marital •entitle, mistitle, recital, requital, title, vital •subtitle • surtitle •axolotl, bottle, dottle, glottal, mottle, pottle, throttle, wattle •fontal, horizontal •hostel, intercostal, Pentecostal •greenbottle • bluebottle • Aristotle •chortle, immortal, mortal, portal •Borstal •anecdotal, sacerdotal, teetotal, total •coastal, postal •subtotal •brutal, footle, pootle, refutal, rootle, tootle •buttle, cuttle, rebuttal, scuttle, shuttle, subtle, surrebuttal •buntal, contrapuntal, frontal •crustal • societal • pivotal •hurtle, kirtle, myrtle, turtle

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Myrtle

MYRTLE

MYRTLE (Heb. הֲדַס; Hadas), Myrtus communis, a shrub, and occasionally a tree, possessing fragrant and glossy leaves. It grows wild on Mount Carmel and in Upper Galilee, and its use as a decorative shrub is widespread. The leaves usually grow in series of two and opposite each other. Some have leaves arranged in groups of three. Burning the shrubs produces a higher proportion of the latter form. The plant flowers during the summer months and later bears black berries. There are other varieties whose ripe fruit is white and whose small leaves are arranged in groups of four or more. The plant is called asu in Akkadian and asa in Aramaic. The eẓ avot, twice mentioned in Scripture, refers, according to rabbinical tradition, to the myrtle. It is one of the *Four Species (Lev. 23:40). The Book of Nehemiah, however, refers to both hadas and eẓ avot, in connection with the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles (Neh. 8:15). In consequence some scholars think that the name eẓ avot applies to any tree whose branches are closely braided together (avotim, "compact"). The rabbis explain that hadas refers to the wild myrtle branches gathered for covering the sukkah, while eẓ avot refers to the twigs of three-leaved myrtles which were "with the lulav" (Suk. 12a). They explained that eẓ avot means a tree "whose branches cover its trunk… is shaped like a plait and resembles a chain" (Suk. 32b). The leaves of the *oleander are of similar form but were declared invalid on the grounds that it is poisonous (ibid.). To satisfy the regulation concerning Tabernacles "a myrtle producing groups of three leaves from a single node" is necessary; there was a dispute concerning the validity of those varieties of myrtle, like the Egyptian myrtle, which produce many leaves from a single node (Suk. 32b–33a).

The myrtle is an evergreen (Targ. Sheni, Esth. 2:7), and the rabbis thus compared it with the good qualities of Esther whose Hebrew name was Hadassah ("myrtle"). Its aromatic branches were used for preparing the bride-groom's wreaths (Tosef., Sot. 15:8). They were used in festivities and betrothal celebrations, and some of the sages would juggle with myrtle branches, throwing them up and catching them (Ket. 17a). The leaves of the myrtle have the shape of the eye (Lev. R. 30: 14). Its fruits, called benot Hadas ("myrtle products"), were occasionally eaten, but are tasteless (tj, Or. 1:1, 60c–d; Suk. 32b). Some recommended myrtle leaves as a remedy for blood pressure in the head (Git. 68b). The custom still obtains in some places of pronouncing the blessings for spices at the *Havdalah on the termination of the Sabbath over myrtle leaves. According to *Bet Hillel the benediction over the myrtle takes precedence over the benediction over aromatic oil (Ber. 43b).

bibliography:

Loew, Flora, 2 (1924), 257–74; H.N. and A.L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible (1952), 316 (index), s.v.; J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (19682), 99–101. add. bibliography: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 51.

[Jehuda Feliks]

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