Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Plant of the Week: Sarcoccoa ruscifolia

Can we say Sarcococca ruscifolia five times real fast? Or at all? It took me awhile. (Sar kuh koh' kuh roo sih foh' leah yuh). 

Or you could just say "Sweet Box" but where's the fun in that? I won't go into the plethora of reasons why botanical Latin is critical to proper plant identification but will suffice it to say, if you're a serious gardener, you should strive to embrace it, despite its esoteric nature, pun intended. 

Sarcococca is a winter blooming, perfuming machine! A few days ago, I was surprised when I walked past it and caught a whiff of its delicious perfume. I wasn't quite expecting it yet because for the past few years cold temperatures have postponed its bloom by as much as a month. But this year's temperatures have been normal so it's doing its typical January thing. 

Sarcococca ruscifolia in bud

I discovered Sarcococca in 2002 while in the throes of my fragrant plant phase. It sounded too good to be true: winter blooming, evergreen shrub, happy to grow in dry shade. In all the time I've had my plants, they've never been bothered by pests, including deer (knock on wood) and on warmer winter days intrepid bees will find their way to the flowers for what I can only imagine is a sweet cocktail.

Although the somewhat demure flowers wouldn't win any designer awards, the branches can be snipped and brought inside for a fragrant, albeit mostly green bouquet. As I write this, I'm enjoying its perfume in a vase on the table next to me. This particular bouquet has been here for almost a week and is still as intense as the day I brought it in. 

Eventually the pollinated flowers will form plump, black berries as you can see above. If the conditions are right, the berries will drop, germinate and make new plants. I've also had success in rooting the aforementioned cut branches by leaving them in water (refreshed every week) for a few months.

My first Sarcococca shrub, planted in 2002, about two and a half feet tall and four feet wide.

That same plant while in full bloom.
There are a few other species of Sarcococca out there. Most notably, S. humilis a dwarf, slow growing plant that in my experience, bloomed much later. With a small garden and limited space and because I wasn't as thrilled with its performance, it went buh-bye years ago. However, it is purportedly more tolerant of cold winters, (winter-hardy to Zone 6, -10 °F) so if you're gardening in a colder climate, here you go. 

Sarcococca is a fairly common plant, so, gardening peeps if you're growing it, is yours blooming yet? And if you're not growing it, why not?


  1. It's a lovely plant. I had one in my old garden, where it was subject to leaf tip burns and never looked like much but the scent alone made it worth growing.

  2. I have a Sarcoccoa and never get any fragrance from it. It could be because it is under the Edgeworthia that blooms just ahead of the Sarcoccoa and it so very fragrant. Could be that I just can't smell it. My blooming Prunus is so fragrant but my husband doesn't smell it.

  3. Ha! I totally forgot I had one. It's about 3 years old. I had no idea they would get big..which is amazing! I've been too chicken to wander through the muddy grass to check it out. Probably should.

  4. I love winter blooming evergreens and this one is a nice pick. I enjoyed your informative post!

  5. No, I can't say it five times fast. LOL. It's an interesting plant, though!


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