Myrica gale (Sweet-gale)

Plant Info
Also known as: Bog Myrtle
Family:Myricaceae (Bayberry)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; wet; lake shores, stream banks, bogs, fens
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:2 to 4 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: spike

[photo of male catkins] Male and female flowers are mostly borne separately on different plants (dioecious), sometimes on the same plant (monoecious), in clusters called catkins; flowering occurs before leaves emerge. Male catkins are erect and cylindrical, 1/3 to ¾ inch long, from lateral buds at the tips of one-year-old twigs, with 12 to 25 flowers each with a broad, sharply pointed, yellowish to reddish-brown bract and 4 to 8 pale stamens.

[photo of female flowers] Female catkins also form from lateral buds at tips of one-year-old twigs, ¼ to 1/3 inch long with 15 to 35 flowers, each having 2 red filament-like stigmas subtended by oval bracts.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are simple and alternate, ¾ to 2½ inches long, 1/3 to ¾ inch wide, the blades widest above the middle, tips rounded with several pairs of shallow, rounded teeth, a long taper to a wedge-shaped base and very short stalk. Both surfaces are heavily dotted with minute yellow glands and are hairless or with fine hairs. Twigs are very fine, reddish to dark purplish brown, hairy, with scattered lenticels (pores) and dotted with yellowish glands. Stems are profusely branched, the tips lacking a terminal bud. Lower stems are up to about 1 inch diameter with grayish-brown bark.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of developing fruit] Flowers develop into a thick, compact cluster 1/3 to ½ inch long, with flattened, egg-shaped nutlets, each about 1/8 inch long with a stubby beak.


Sweet-gale is a common shoreline shrub of acidic lakes, streams and bogs throughout northeastern Minnesota. It spreads vegetatively by both branch layering and root suckers forming large, colonial and nearly impenetrable thickets that typically extend out over the shoreline's water. Like most members of the bayberry family, the leaves are pungently fragrant when crushed though there is no information that they are used in cooking. While at a casual glance one might see it as a willow, its gland dotted leaves and fragrant odor readily distinguishes it from any other species.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Lake County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Hans Ringsak - Stillwater
on: 2019-01-22 20:00:22

Sweet-gale may not have a history of use in cooking, but it does have a history as a spice used in beer brewing, especially before hops were commonly used in beer.

Posted by: Lisa McKhann - on lakeshores and riverbanks
on: 2020-07-24 13:43:52

We see it on Herding Island in the Duluth-Superior harbor. Also on lake shores in northern Minnesota, and along the riverbanks of the Brule R. in northern Wisconsin. A pretty shrub hugging the banks and dipping into the water.

Posted by: Kathy Connelly - Minneapolis
on: 2024-03-25 15:05:21

Trinity College (Dublin, IE) research currently shows that oils from this plant (present in Irish bogs) are effective insect repellents, prompted by 1930's folkloric accounts from school children.

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