Token used to Enter the Gardens in 1836

The Genus Sarcococca

Genus: Sarcococca Lindl. (From Gk sarx, flesh, and kokkos, berry, an allusion to the fleshy fruits.)

Family: Buxaceae.

Common Name: Sweet Box.

The genus Sarcococca includes 11 species of slow-growing, evergreen, dwarf and medium shrubs or small trees. The RHS Plant Finder lists 14 names.

Stems and branches may be hairy (puberulous) or smooth (glabrous), often suckering freely at the base in smaller species or spreading horizontally if rhizomatous.

Leaves generally alternate, occasionally opposite or subopposite towards the end of the shoots, glabrous, entire, petiolate but lacking stipules, thickly leathery and obscurely veined, or thinly leathery with conspicuous venation.

Inflorescence a compact axillary cluster or an erect spike l0-25mm long. Flowers small, off-white to cream to pink, apetalus, unisexual, with male flowers at the apex and female flowers at the base (occasionally male and female flowers in separate racemes). Male flowers have four sepals and four stamens; female flowers have four to six sepals and two or three styles.

Fruit an ovoid or globose drupe, red, purple to black.

Seeds 1-3 in a fruit, brown or black.

Sarcococca confusa - © 2008, Alison Hunter Sarcococca confusa
(Sweet Box)

Sarcococca hookeriana (Christmas Box) - © Meg Jullien Sarcococca hookeriana
(Christmas Box)

Origin: SE Asia, Himalayas, W China.


Sarcococca spp., are generally grown for their attractive evergreen foliage and fragrant flowers (except S. saligna, which has little scent), produced during the winter months when they are particularly welcome. Of secondary value are the red to black berries produced in the autumn. S. hookeriana var. humilis is suitable as a groundcover subject, while the other species are appropriate for specimen plantings or for use in the shrub border. They flourish in a neutral to alkaline pH, preferring a humus-rich soil although frequently tolerating a dry, calcareous soil.

They grow best in partial shade, but will tolerate full sun provided there is sufficient moisture in the soil. The most frost-hardy species are S. confusa, S. hookeriana, S. hookeriana var. digyna, S. hookeriana var. humilis and S. hookeriana var. digyna 'Purple Stem'. Those more suited to a southerly location or requiring winter protection include S. orientalis, S. ruscifolia, S. ruscifolia var. chinensis, S. ruscifolia 'Dragon Gate' and S. saligna, S. vagans (balansae) and S. wallichii may need winter protection in Sheffield.

Propagate either by division for the rhizomatous species or by hardwood cuttings, taken in autumn and inserted into a cold frame.


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This page updated on 16 April 2015. This site updated on 19 November 2012.