Amsonia – The Perennial of the Year
Online postings in March

The under rated scented sweet box

Sarcococca,confusa,hookeriana,Schilling. Image © (all rights reserved)
Whenever I enthuse about Sarcoccoca, the sweet box, judy gets a glazed look in her eye which dissolves into a skeptical glint.

It’s true, they’re not the most flamboyant of evergreen shrubs, although the one I saw in flower at the RHS Garden at Wisley a couple of weeks back was very impressive. And the berries last for months, you’ll often find plants with flowers and fruits in their prime at the same time.

But it’s the scent that’s really special, wafting from what, in some species, are flowers hidden by foliage to transform the winter garden. Related to the more familiar box or boxwood, Buxus, with their rather unpleasant smelling flowers – well, you can’t trim a sarcococca into a spiral but it smells delightful.

Sarcococca confusa was the first species I came across, years ago. The fragrance from the hidden creamy flowers on a plant by the entrance to the old Kew Alpine House prompted me to beg a few cuttings. I still keep coming across their descendants in family and friends’ gardens. Here in Pennsylvania, it’s too cold: S. confusa is zone 6 plant.

So in the picture there’s S. hookeriana (also zone 6), brightly showing off its petal-less flowers, the color coming from the creamy stamens. Checking up, I see that this plant has been named ‘Schillingii’ (though that doesn’t look like a valid name, to me), having been collected in Nepal by Tony Schilling, who once ran Kew’s satellite garden at Wakehurst Place in Sussex.

And on the right, the berries of S. confusa still looking good after this winter’s freezing weather - although the foliage seems less resilient to the unexpectedly icy blasts.

So if your climate is suitable, I’d suggest you try any species you can find. And don’t forget to pass them round – you’ll often find self sown seedlings, and you can also often detach small rooted pieces at the base.

In Britain PMA Plant Specialities list eleven types (I’d better get down there as soon as I get back) while in North America, Forest Farm list four types.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Diane Whitehead

The berries surprised me. My sarcococca is 40 years old, with the tallest part about a metre high, and has never had a berry. It suckers gently, but of course has never had a seedling.

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Graham Rice

I'm surprised your sarcococca has never ever produced berries, maybe they're being eaten by birds while still immature. Or perhaps try some different species, D. rusciolia has red berries.


Yes I love the under rated Sarcococca! Out here on the west coast I seem to find the S. ruscifolia (fragrant sarcococca) more than other types. Nobody can guess that in February and March that it is this plant that is putting out its wonderful fragrance. Which more than makes up for the underwhelming blooms. Mine is in my shady side yard right near my garbage cans and does its job admirably and without any maintenance at all!

Graham Rice

Absolutely right, EasyBloom. Sarcococca hookeriana 'Schillingii', in flower in the picture, is not really typical. It has flowers which show themselves off far more impressively than S. confusa or S. rusciolia and make much more impact. With S. confusa and S. ruscifolia, as you say, it's more a case of: "Where is that wonderful scent coming from?" - as you're standing right alongside the plant!

The comments to this entry are closed.