Christmas Box, Sweet Box.

As grown by a National Heritage Plant Collection holder.

The name is derived from the Greek words sarkos meaning flesh, and kokkos meaning a berry, a reference to the fleshy fruits.

A Genus of slow growing evergreen shrubs, grown for their foliage, fragrant, winter flowers and spherical fruits. Flowers are tiny, the only conspicuous parts being the anthers. Useful for cutting in winter. Fully hardy to frost hardy. Grows in sun or shade and in fertile, not too dry or too wet soil.

Genus of about 14 species, although we have 20 different taxa in Sheffield Botanical Gardens. The species are all monoecious, that is ‘flowers imperfect, the staminate and pistillate flowers are borne on the same plant’. Evergreen, sometimes rhizomatous shrubs found in moist shady places, forest, and thickets from China to the Himalayas and SE Asia. They are grown for their foliage, unusually with fragrant flowers, and their berry like fruits which take about 15 months to mature. The leaves are mainly alternate and spirally arranged (sinistrorse) but sometimes at the branch ends are arranged opposite. Narrowly lance shaped to broadly ovate or elliptic. Tiny fragrant, petal-less, white or whitish green, male and female flowers, 5-7 mm long, are borne in small clusters or spikes in the leaf axils. The male flowers have 4 or very seldom 5 separate stamen, the filaments are mostly white and the anthers, which are coloured and are a useful guide to cultivar recognition. The filament and anther are joined dorsifixedly.

The female flowers are produced below the males in the inflorescence. There are usually more male flowers than females. The male flowers tend to open before the females.

The female flowers are fully receptive in winter and those that are fertilized will grow on for 15 months to produce fruit, which starts green in colour changing to red, then purple-black or to black as it ripens. S. ruscifolia and cultivars ripen to a red colour. The shape and size is also important in cultivar recognition. Also the colour and number of seed in the fruit, which can have 1 to 3 seeds. Most species have a fixed number of styles remaining on the mature fruit, in S. confusa there are always 2 or 3 styles remaining on each berry. On all the others there is a fixed number of styles ( 2 or 3 ) on any plant.

The evergreen, tapered foliage looks good in a vase, and the strange, thin white flowers last long enough to be enjoyed inside. Then come the big berries that the birds enjoy. The most common is S. confusa, a dense, low maintenance shrub. It is the largest of the species and can reach 3m. plus in height. It throws out flowers by the dozen, followed by black berries produced by the previous flowering season. It is a joy to have in the garden, particularly near an entrance. S, confusa is the only species to reliably produce seedlings beneath the mother plant in SBG.

Grow as ground cover in a woodland garden or use as a low informal hedge. Tolerant of atmospheric pollution, dry shade and neglect. Protect plants in pots from frost damage. Roots can be tender. They enjoy growing in rich organic soil, moist but well drained with light shade. An occasional mulch of leaf mold in spring is thought to be beneficial. All except S. balansae and S. zeylanica are grown successfully in the open in the Sheffield Botanical Gardens. They are easy to grow but take at least a season to establish and can be successful in containers. They tend to be easily damaged by deep falls of snow. A neutral pH is thought to be best.

Plants are usually produced from semi ripe cuttings in late summer. Although cuttings taken through out the year with the right conditions will usually succeed. Bottom heat helps to get the young plants through the cold winter. Grow from seed sown when ripe in spring. S. confusa can produce many seedlings below the mother plant. However most of the other species produce few berries and hence few seedlings in the UK. S. confusa is known to grow for more than 60 years and can be successfully moved at an old age. Remember that seedlings from open pollination may not breed true.

Do not prune into old wood. RHS pruning group 8..


The RHS has listed the following three plants without suppliers, Sarcococca hookeriana clone 1 ex Windsor.Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Lance Leaf’. Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Daman’.

Any one help me find these plants.

I have just purchased two new cultivars of Sarcococca Mountain and Valley from Crocus in March 2019 which look good growers.