Buxus sempervirens

English box


Buxus sempervirens

L. 1753

pronounced: BUx-uss sem-per-VIH-renz

(Buxaceae — the box family)


common names: English box, European box, boxwood

Buxus Latin for the box-tree, and sempervirens for ‘always being green’.

This is a native of western and southern Europe, north-west Africa and south-west Asia, its range being from southern England south to northern Morocco, and east through the northern Mediterranean region to Turkey.
It is an evergreen shrub or small tree growing 1 – 9 m tall, with a trunk up to 20 cm in diameter. The leaves are in opposite pairs, green to yellow-green, oval, 1.5 – 3 cm long and 5 – 13 mm broad. The bisexual flowers are inconspicuous, greenish yellow, with no petals, and are insect-pollinated. The fruit is a 3-lobed capsule containing 3 – 6 seeds. I have not seen the Magnetic Island plants in bloom - the flower photograph was taken in Sydney.

This is a very popular ornamental plant in gardens, although usually found in more temperate climates than ours. It is particularly valued for topiary and hedges because of its small leaves, scented foliage, and tolerance to close shearing. Several cultivars have been selected, including ‘Argenteo-variegata’ and ‘Marginata’ with variegated foliage, and ‘Vardar Valley’, a slow-growing semi-dwarf cultivar.

The wood (‘boxwood’) is very hard, probably the hardest in Europe, and heavy, making it ideal for cabinet-making, the manufacture of woodwind instruments, engraving, marquetry, woodturning, tool handles and mallet heads. The leaves were formerly used as a quinine substitute, for reducing fevers.

Box hedges are very popular in Melbourne, particularly in formal gardens. They have the advantage of requiring only one or two trimmings a year. They require very little water, and will grow in almost any soil, and in from full sun through to deep shade.

Other species of Buxus are also worth considering if you want a formal hedge:
       • Dutch Box (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) is a tight-clipped dwarf variety that is very slow-growing, hard to establish, but easy to maintain.
       • African Box (Myrsine africana) is relatively fast-growing, and waterwise. It will grow to 3 m, but can be maintained at 30 cm.
       • Japanese Box (Buxus microphylla var. japonica) is also waterwise, has darker leaves and remains relatively compact.
       • Korean Box (Buxus microphylla var. koreana) is quite similar to Japanese Box, and is an excellent hedge for a cooler climate.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2010 and Sydney 2006
Page last updated 25th October 2018