Sarcococca (Sweet Box)

Sarcococca in Flower

A useful evergreen winter shrub that forms a dense thicket of glossy leaves. Its tiny very fragrant white flowers appear in winter, when little else is in flower. Sarcococca is one of those plants that you plant and forget about until the lovely sweet scent hits you full-on in late winter. An excellent shrub to grow for use in winter flower arrangements.

Family: Buxaceae (box family)
Botanical Name: Sarcococca
Common Names: Christmas box, sweet box

Foliage: Evergreen, lance-shaped or elliptic, green leathery leaves. The foliage is small, glossy and densely packed on the stems.

Flowers: Insignificant, tiny creamy-white flowers. Highly fragrant. Attractive shiny red, purple or black berries appear in the autumn.

Flowering Period: Winter to spring.

Soil: Moist but well-drained soil (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Any pH.

Conditions: Full shade to partial shade. Can be grown in any aspect, in a sheltered location. Will tollerate sun if the soil is kept moist.

Habit: Compact, bushy, sometimes suckering.

Type: Small shrub.

Origin: China and Himalayas.

Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.

Planting and Growing Sarcococca

Grow in a sheltered shaded position, in a humus-rich, well drained, moderately fertile soil. Prefers shade but will tollerate sun if the soil is kept moist.

Slow-growing and tolerant of atmospheric pollution. Good as ground cover or as a low hedge under shade. Ideal for a dry shady spot or wooded glade. It will grow happily under taller shrubs or trees, so long as the soil is not too dry or impoverished.

To experience Sarcococca's lovely winter scent, plant it under a window or near a gate or pathway.

Taking Care of Sarcococca

Water thoroughly during dry weather until well established. Mulch with organic matter in spring and apply a general fertilizer suitable for shrubs.

Pruning Sarcococca

Prune only to restrict size. Cut away old, damaged or untidy stems after flowering.

Remove suckers to contain spread.

Pests and Diseases

Generally pest and disease free.

Propagating Sarcococca

Seed can be sown outdoors in spring and autumn. Established plants will often self seed readily.

Sarcococca suckers freely, so the easiest way to propagate is to pot-on the rooted suckers or divide up an established plant in early spring. Alternatively, semi-hardwood cuttings can be taken in late summer. Root these in a cold frame using a rooting hormone. Cuttings need to be grown-on in containers for one or two years until they become well developed, before planting out.

Popular Varieties of Sarcococca Grown in the UK

The different species are so similar in appearance that it is difficult to tell them apart.

Sarcococca confusa has dark green elliptical leaves. Very fragrant, tiny white flowers with pink anthers from January to March, followed by tiny black berries. Height to 6ft (1.8), spread to 5ft (1.5m).

Sarcococca hookerana is a more erect form but not that hardy in UK. Height to 6ft (1.8), spread to 4ft (1.2m). Good cultivars include S. h. digyna.

Sarcococca ruscifolia is a compact form with shiny oval leaves. Fragrant white flowers in winter, followed by red berries. Height and spread to 3ft (1m).