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What is a Sarcococca?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2016
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A Sarcococca is a plant in the genus of the same name. The common name for this genus is “sweet box,” and a number of individual species are cultivated as ornamental plants. Sarcococcas flourish in USDA zones six to 11, depending on the species, generally preferring shady spots, especially in areas which get a lot of sun every year. Gardening stores in these regions sometimes carry a cultivar or two, and the plant can also be ordered directly through nursery suppliers.

This plant is in the box family, Buxaceae, and it is a close relative of the boxwoods, a large group of shrubs and small trees. Sarcococca tends to be a low-growing shrub or a groundcover, depending on the species, with dark green very glossy leaves which superficially resemble those of citrus fruit. The flowers are white, and they emit a very sweet, rich fragrance which tends to be quite mild. One advantage to these plants is that they require little maintenance, preferring to be planted and then largely left alone.

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One of the best uses of a Sarcococca is as a border near a path or building. Being close to heavily-trafficked areas is advised, so that people can enjoy the delicate scent. It can also be used as a groundcover in shady parts of the garden, as long as other scented plants are not located close by, because the scent can be overwhelmed fairly easily. It can also be planted in large beds to create a blanket of green foliage, or used in knot gardens to create ornamental borders.

A popular Sarcococca species for gardening is Sarcococca ruscifolia, a low-growing shrub also known as fragrant sweetbox. A dwarf version of this plant known as Sarcococca humilis is also available. The dwarf version is especially well suited to borders, since it grows low to the ground, allowing gardeners to plant low shrubs and flowers in the areas bordered by this fragrant evergreen plant. Sarcococca confusa is another popular cultivar which is hardy in cooler regions.

Sarcococca prefers well-drained soil, protection from direct sunlight, and it has average water needs. The flowers emerge in the fall and winter, developing into berries which may be red or black, depending on the species, adding some pleasant color to the winter landscape. These plants can be cultivated from cuttings or seeds, and most species also have root balls which can be divided in two to produce two plants.

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