SARCOCOCCA: Sweet Box
One of the first flowers of the year is Sweet Box, Sarcococca. The blooms may go unnoticed as they are rather small and hidden amongst dark glossy leaves, but their scent will grab you. On sunny winter days (yes, we do have some of those in Portland) the sweet fragrance they are named for fills the air.
Christmas Box, Sarcococca confusa
Sweet smelling flowers are enough to make us love a plant forever, but Sarcococca keeps on giving. It features dark, glossy, evergreen leaves, bird-attracting berries and thrives in shady gardens (even in dry shade!). And it's pest-free nature clinches the deal.
White flowers in January, red berries in fall turn black. Grows 3-5’ x 3-5’ if left alone but it can easily be pruned into a lower hedge (see below). Shade-part shade, Z7 (0-10f)
Himalayan Sweet Box, Sarcococca hookeriana humilis
White flowers in January are a bit later than and not as fragrant as S. confusa. Black berries. It slowly forms a nice evergreen mat, spreading by underground roots. Plants grown from cuttings can vary in mature size — typical growth is around 10-12” tall x 2-3’ wide, but plants can grow as tall as 2-3’. Recently new varieties have been release that are more uniform in their habits.
‘Fragrant Mountain’ grows 2’ x 3’
‘Fragrant Valley’ grows 18” x 36”
All thrive in shade to part shade and once established, like dry shade.
Hardy Z6 (-10-0f)
Digyna Sweet Box, Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Digyna’
Leaves are longer and more narrow, flowers have a tinge of pink at the base, and growth is to 3’ x 3’.
Sweet Box, Sarcococca ruscifolia
Sarcococca ruscifolia is like in almost every way to S. confusa. The major difference is fruit color – S. ruscifolia has red berries rather than black. It also grows a bit larger, to 5’ x 5’. Shade, Z7
FACTS: SWEET BOX
Genus: Sarcococca (sar-ka-KOE-kuh)
Common: Sweet Box
Origin: Southeast Asia, western Himalayas, western China
Characteristics: Several species of evergreen shrubs and groundcovers. Mid-winter white flowers are small, feathery looking & may go unnoticed except for their exceptional scent. Leaves are opposite, dark green & glossy. Red, black or blue fleshy berries appear in winter alongside flowers.
Size: Varies by species.
• Groundcover types are 10-12” tall, spreading to 3’ wide
• Upright shrubs from 18” tall to 4-5’tall
Culture: Shade to part shade – hot afternoon summer sun will burn them.
Hardiness varies, Z6 (-10-0f) & Z7(0-10f)
Sarcococca is usually evergreen, but we have witnessed defoliation caused by extreme (for Portland) cold. The plants recovered in spring with no long-term problems.