This species has a long bloom time in winter (in climates where it can grow), and the berries persist through much of the rest of the year. One of the nicest qualities of Sarcococca confusa is that it nearly always provides displays of either flowers or fruit–a quality which is expressed in today’s photo of the fruit ripening alongside swelling flower buds.
Sarcococca confusa is an evergreen shrub species to 2 meters tall that is widely cultivated for its glossy evergreen foliage and intense honey-scented flowers (these give the species its common name, sweet box). It has been widely cultivated since the early 20th century–possibly from seeds collected by Wilson in China–but is not known from the wild. Blooming in mid-winter, the flowers are crowded into short clusters of typically three male flowers (though infrequently 1-2) and one to three female flowers. The bird-ingested fruits are glossy black berries that ripen by late summer. For images of the flowers and fruit, see this wonderful digital botanical illustration of Sarcococca confusa, by Niki Simpson.
Sweet box is an easy plant species to grow in all but the harshest climates. It will tolerate nearly any soil and level of sunlight, and can even be planted in dry shade such as under a dense tree canopy. It grows quickly, tolerates regular pruning, and unlike most of the other Sarcococca species, does not sucker. In addition, Sarcococca confusa can be used as an alternative to boxwoods (Buxus species), which, in UK and North American cultivation, are being affected by boxwood blight, a fungus that causes defoliation and death of boxwood plants. Unlike Buxus, however, Sarcococca cannot be pruned into complicated topiary. Basic shapes, such as rounded or square forms, are achievable. Sweet box should be pruned shortly after flowering, which will force the growth of new stems that will flower the following winter.