Sarcococca confusa (Sweet box)–PLANT FIX

Sweet box branches in a handthrown vase by Dotty Patrick

Sweet box branches in a handthrown vase by Dotty Patrick

Valentine’s Day is upon us and I’ve always thought that the best gift for a sweetheart that adores flowers is a PLANT.  A bouquet is beautiful, but a flowering plant is the “gift that keeps on giving”.  And so, the ideal present in my mind is a witch hazel, hellebore, camellia or Sarcococca–anything with a lovely winter flower to brighten up gray days.  Even if it’s a bare root, as yet barren rose–the gardener knows the potential and will appreciate the thoughtful gesture of many a bouquet to come.

Some type of fly visits Sarcococca flowers

Some type of fly visits Sarcococca flowers

Over the years I have added several winter bloomers to my garden so that I have “flower power” to get me through the dark days. Sarcococca confusa shrubs are planted in shady locations so that their strong fragrance finds me when I’m out in the garden, or more commonly at this time of the year, on my way to and fro work.  The scent of Sarcococca in late January and most of February lifts my spirits.  As soon as I notice it, I clip some branches to put in a tall vase by my front door and bring a handful inside for further enjoyment.

A handful is all you need.  Some who are sensitive to strong perfumes might find sweet box too much for a closed-in space, but I adore it.  If your front door is on the north side of the house, I recommend planting a Sarcococca there.  Alas, my entry faces west and receives way too much sun for sweet box.  No worries–a tall vase of branches on the front porch  lasts a long time in the cool of the outdoors, way beyond that of the vase on my dining table.  Sarcococca is most attractive when grown in full shade and rich soil.  It will grow with more sun provided it is given ample water, but the leaves will be smaller, yellower and less glossy.

My desire to bring the flowers indoors turned into an opportunity to prune the Sarcococca growing lushly on the north side of my garage.  As I rustled the branches, various flies and other tiny insects like gnats took to the air.  Ah ha!  These must be the pollinators for the tiny, white, petalless flowers.  No bees, beetles or other better known winged-ones were in sight.  Flowers are fragrant, after all, to insure cross pollination, not for human pleasure, though what a wonderful by-product.  There are both male and female flowers on Sarcococca, and the males are distinguished by long white anthers.

The flowers are hardly noticeable amongst the foliage.  Back in my nursery days I remember customers whiffing large, scentless camellias or anything blooming nearby in search of “that heavenly smell”.  It was always fun to introduce people to sweet box and see their surprise that such an inconspicuous blossom could pack a punch. Sarcococca confusa is an evergreen shrub that reaches approximately 5′ feet high by 5′ wide in time and is largely pest and disease free.

A Valentine’s bouquet of sweet box from your garden or a 1 gallon pot or larger (Sarcococca does bloom when young) would be a welcome gift for your flower-loving sweetheart or yourself.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is freelance garden writer and speaker.
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2 Responses to Sarcococca confusa (Sweet box)–PLANT FIX

  1. Joyce OConnell says:

    I am having trouble locating this plant for my shade garden. I live in NY State, just north of NYC.
    Do you know where I could purchase this plant either in a nursery or by mail? Thank you!

    • Colleen Miko says:

      Sorry, I don’t do a lot of mail order for the garden, but you might try Forest Farm Nursery–they have an extensive catalog of woody plants in their catalog and ship all.
      Good luck.

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