It is native to eastern Asia, mainly in China, where it has been grown for at least 2000 years, and probably also Japan and Southeast Asia as well. Chinese cultivation is concentrated south of the Yangtze River, where it is of considerable economic importance.
In Japan, it is the flower of and the prefectural tree of . The plant's name appears in many old Japanese poems.
It is a small to medium-sized tree growing to 10-20 metres in height, evergreen, with smooth gray bark and a uniform spherical to hemispherical crown. It is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. It tolerates poor acidic soils. The root system is shallow , with no obvious taproot.
The fruit is spherical, 1.5-2.5 cm in diameter, with a knobby surface. The surface color is typically a deep, brilliant red, but may vary from white to purple. The flesh color is similar to surface color, or somewhat lighter. The flesh is sweet and very tart. At the center is a single seed, with a diameter about half that of the whole fruit.
Various species of Myrica have been studied scientifically for horticultural characteristics or phytochemicals implicated with health benefits. Dating to 1951, the horticultural literature includes studies on
* nitrogen-fixing ability of the root nodules system
* presence of Frankia bacteria having nitrogen-fixing properties in root nodules
* microbial characteristics of the subcanopy soil
* niche characteristics in the forest environment
* growth of pollen tubes
The medical literature is diverse, with studies of phytochemicals from bark, leaves and fruit. Significant progress has been reported on polyphenols, particularly ellagic acid, tannins and anthocyanins, antioxidant activity, anti-cancer and anti-viral properties.
An extract from fruit called myricerone blocks a receptor for the peptide, endothelin, an important mediator of blood vessel constriction, indicating potential for drug development.
Besides fresh consumption, the fruits are commonly dried, canned, soaked in ''baijiu'' , or fermented into alcoholic beverages. Some cultivars with large fruit, up to 4 cm diameter, have been developed. A dye may be prepared from the bark. The plant is also used as ornamental trees for parks and streets.