Skip to site navigation

Important notice: by continuing to use our site you are deemed to have accepted our privacy and cookie policy

Advertise here
Support the RHS

Support the RHS

Free days out at more than 140 gardens.
Join the RHS
Buy as a gift

Other RHS Gardens

Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna 'Purple Stem'

Sarcococca hookeriana var digyna 'Purple Stem' Image:Andrew Chapman

The sweet fragrance of different varieties and cultivars of Sarcococca hookeriana permeates the air in the area around the Winter Garden, Winter Walk and Scented Garden at Harlow Carr.

Vital statistics

Common name
Christmas or sweet box
Height & spread
1.5m x 2m (5ft x 6ft)
Evergreen shrub
Moderately fertile, humus rich, well-drained soil
Full or partial shade
Fully hardy


This is a genus of about 14 species of monoecious (plants where male and female flowers are carried separately, but on the same plant), evergreen and sometimes rhizomatous shrubs.

They are found in moist, shady sites, forests and thickets from China to the Himalayas and SE Asia and are grown for their foliage, mostly fragrant flowers and berry-like fruits.

The leaves are mainly alternate, entire and narrowly lance-shaped to broadly-ovate.

The flowers are small, about 5mm (0.25in) long and both male and female are white or greenish-white and without petals. They are borne in clusters or spikes in the leaf axils. The male flowers are produced above the females in the inflorescence and have conspicuous anthers.

Sarcococca can be used as ground cover in a woodland garden or used as a low, informal hedge. They are useful plants, tolerating atmospheric pollution, dry shade and neglect.

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

Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna 'Purple Stem'

This species is from Western China and was named in honour of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, botanist and, like his father William Jackson Hooker, a Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

It is a compact, rhizomatous, thicket-forming and suckering shrub. Leaves are lance-shaped to oblong, mid to dark green and up to 9cm (3.5in) long. Fragrant clusters of white flowers are borne in winter, followed by spherical black or blue-black fruit 5mm (0.25in) across.

Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna AGM has slender, tapered leaves and the male flowers have cream anthers.

Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’ has purple-pink flushed young shoots and pink-tinged flowers.

Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis is a dwarf, clump-forming shrub from Western China which spreads by suckers. Its height and spread are 0.6m x 1m (2ft x 3ft) and it has erect shoots and oblong, dark green leaves up to 8cm (3in) long. Fragrant, pink-tinged white flowers are produced in winter followed by spherical blue-black fruit 5mm (0.25in) across.


  • Grow in moderately fertile, humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil in deep or partial shade.
  • Shelter from cold, drying winds.
  • Prune annually, after flowering, to maintain shape.


  • Sow seed in containers outdoors in autumn or spring.
  • Take semi-ripe cuttings in late summer. Remove suckers in late winter.


The RHS Woody Plant Committee awarded Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna an Award of Garden Merit and described it as:

'Small, suckering evergreen shrub with green or purplish stems, narrowly lanceolate mid-green leaves and clusters of small, creamy-white, fragrant flowers. Berries black.@

Advertise here