Sarcococca ruscifolia

Family : Buxaceae

Text © Pietro Puccio


English translation by Mario Beltramini


Decorative fruits, long-lasting winter, much perfumed flowers © G. Mazza

Decorative fruits, long-lasting winter, much perfumed flowers © G. Mazza

The Sarcococca ruscifolia Stapf (1910) is native to China (Gansu, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Shanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan), where it grows in the woody slopes, on calcareous rocks or along the banks of the rivers, between 200 and 2.500 m of altitude.

The name of the genus is the combination of the Greek words “sarx” = flesh and “kokkos” = berry, stone, with reference to the fleshy fruits; the name of the species is the combination of the name of the genus Ruscus (butcher’s broom) and “folia” = leaf, with reference to the resemblance of the leaves with those of the genus Ruscus .

Common names: “Christmas box”, “fragrant sarcococca”, “fragrant sweetbox”, “sweet-box” (English); “sarcocoque à feuilles de Ruscus” (French); “Mäusedornblättrige Fleischbeere” (German).

Very ramified bush, evergreen, slow growing which usually is not taller than one metre, it has alternate simple leaves, leathery, rather variable for shape and dimensions, ovate or elliptic-lanceolate with sharp apex, 3-7 cm long and 1-3cm broad, of a glossy dark green colour.

The unisexual flowers, cream-white and intensely and pleasantly perfumed, are united in short racemes which originate in autumn-winter at the axil of the terminal leaves; the 2-5 female flowers have tepals (name assumed by petals and sepals when, for shape and colour, they cannot be distinguished), 2 mm long and are grouped at the base of the raceme, whilst the 2-7 male ones occupy the upper part, with 3 mm long tepals and stamina, the most apparent part of the flower, about 7 mm long.

The fruits are globose capsules of about 7-8 mm of diameter of red colour, persisting on the plant for the whole winter. It reproduces, besides by seed, by division thanks to the radical suckers it produces, and by woody cutting, by the end of summer, placed to root in a cold greenhouse in a sandy substratum. Species of great ornamental value due to its evergreen foliage, compact, and the long-lasting winter blossoming, not much evident, but very perfumed, suitable for the temperate climates, where it can stand temperatures as low as -13°C.

It prefers cool and humid locations and well drained and alkaline soils, even poor, and can be utilized as under wood or edges, both in shade, also deep, where very few plants would survive, and in full sun, provided to keep the soil constantly humid. Even if its perfume can be felt far away, its best collocation is along zones of passage, or parking, or close to the houses for taking advantage in the maximum extent of its main characteristic.

The plant is known in the traditional medicine due to its alkaloids with antifungal and anti-bacterial properties contained.

Synonyms: Sarcococca saligna var. chinensis Franch. (1889); Sarcococca ruscifolia Stapf var. chinensis (Franch.) Rehder & E. H. Wilson (1914); Sarcococca pauciflora C.C. Wu ex S.Y. Bao (1977).


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