Sarcococca confusa

Plant of the month: December

Sarcococca confusa  a member of the Buxacea family can be found in the Winter border.

The genus Sarcococca (meaning flesh berry – a reference to the conspicuous fleshy fruits) is also known by the common name sweet box.  This common name tells us two things about these plants.  Firstly, they have fragrant flowers; and secondly they are in the same family as box (the Buxaceae family).

The taxonomy of Sarcococca is confused, with different authorities claiming there are between eleven and fourteen different species.  The plants have a wide distribution across a large swathe of southeast Asia.  They are small, evergreen, shrubs with attractive glossy green leaves that can grow in any fertile soil (including chalk) and enjoy partial shade.

Once established, they can even tolerate dry shade (for example under a tree).  What’s more, they tend to flower and emit their lovely sweet scent in late winter.  The flowers that you can smell are the nectar-filled males; the separate female flowers, once fertilized, become the glossy ‘flesh berries’ – which botanically speaking are not berries at all, but drupes.  These fruits can mature to red, purple, or black depending on the species.  Plants that have separate male and female flowers on the same plant are known as ‘monoecious’ – meaning ‘one house’.

If you have a shaded or partially-shaded spot in your garden, possibly next to a path or a door, that is in need of some ground cover, then a Sarcococca could be the plant for you.  At Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses Ltd, we have several different species and varieties, including S. hookeriana var. digyna (behind the Lawn Aviary on Paxton Prospect); and S. confusa (in the Winter Border on the path that goes from the fountain down to the playground).