PLANT of the WEEK: Sarcococca
“Plant of the Week” is part of a series of factsheets I did for a horticulture class I took at Oregon State University on herbaceous perennials (HORT 255). I thought others might also be interested and we could have a discussion on our experiences with some of these plants.
PLANT: Sarcococca. Common name: Sweetbox or Christmas box. Genus name comes from Greek sarx meaning flesh and kokkos meaning berry in reference to the fruits.
Sunset zones: 4-9, 14-24. USDA zones: 7-9.
Heat zones: 9-6. H x W: 5’ x 5’
My Notes: I was at the NW Flower and Garden Show and smelled the most wonderful fragrance… I rooted around until I found it and it was a Sarcococca. Since then I have planted two near the front steps… they are evergreen and look nice, and in the depth of depressing Northwest winter it smells wonderful and helps me remember spring is coming! The flowers are not very impressive (white) and there are some red berries that look nice… but its the fragrance that’s the best.
CULTURE: Sarcococca is a genus of 16-20 species of flowering plants in the box family Buxaceae, native to eastern and southeastern Asia and the Himalayas. Popular varieties are Sarcococca ruscifolia which has small scarlet berries, Sarcococca confuse with a scent of sweet vanilla, Sarcococca hookeriana var. hookeriana, and Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis a dwarf variety.
SITING AND USE IN THE LANDSCAPE: Place near doorways and walking paths to take advantage of the intoxicating smell in late winter/early spring. Sweet box thrives in shade, where its leaf color is deepest green. It prefers a rich moist to well-drained soil, but will tolerate sandy locations and clay if the drainage is adequate. It tolerates dry conditions once established, making it a good choice for under eaves and in dark, dry locations. Keep it out of hot afternoon sun or the leaves will yellow and scorch. Said to be deer resistant. Evergreen ground cover for woodland gardens. Shrub borders. Low hedge. Shady parts of cottage gardens. Shady slopes.
FLOWERS: Tiny white flowers hidden amongst its glossy, dark-green foliage, open to release a delightful perfume of sweet vanilla or a Swedish bakery. Following flowering, small scarlet or black berries appear. The leaves are borne alternately, 3–12 cm long and 1–4 cm broad.
MAINTENANCE AND LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT: Sweet box grows best in open to deep shade in locations protected from hot afternoon sun. It prefers a rich moist to well-drained soil, but will tolerate sandy locations and clay if the drainage is adequate. Once established it is drought tolerant. It is slow to become established, often taking a couple of years to settle in. In severe and sudden cold snaps it can defoliate, but it will leaf out in spring. Feeding: Side dress with compost or manure. Fertilize in spring with a complete organic fertilizer. Propagation Methods: Sow seed into containers in spring or autumn and place in cold frame. Cuttings in summer. Pruning Methods:
During mid-spring prune dead or damaged branches. Prune for symmetry after flowering. Pests and Diseases:No problems to speak of.
ETHNOBOTANICAL USES: None I could find
Website Sources: Great Plant Picks, Missouri Botanical Garden, Rainy Side Gardeners.