Box Trees

Published January 31, 2019
Box trees with spherical tops

The Box tree has almost as many uses as it does names. Also known as Boxwood or by its genus name, Buxus, the small evergreen is shrub-like and makes for an attractive border, hedge or screen around a lawn or garden. In addition, the Box tree is also grown as bonsai thanks to its short stature and its easily pruned foliage.

Appearance of the Tree

The slow-growing specimen matures to different heights depending on type. While some Box trees top out at just two feet tall, other types can grow as tall as 15 feet with a spread that is equal to or slightly larger than its height.

Other noteworthy characteristics of the Box tree include:

  • Leaves: Range in color from medium green to dark green in spring and summer and an olive or yellowish-brown in fall and winter. The leaves are long, leathery, and slightly rounded at the edges.
  • Flowers: The small, creamy white to yellow-green flowers blossom in spring, but feature a somewhat unpleasant fragrance.
  • Fruits: Inconspicuous brown capsules which contain black seeds.
  • Bark: Young trees have smooth grayish-brown bark, which forms ridges as the tree matures. Also, in some types, the bark exfoliates during the winter months.

Box trees are classified as ornamental species and are commonly found embellishing formal and topiary gardens.

boxwood leave closeup

Box Tree Types

The genus Buxus features about 70 different types of Boxwood trees with the most popular being the Japanese Box and the Common Box. Both species have very similar appearances, though the Japanese variety grows slower and is not as bushy as the Common Box.

Other Box tree types that are popular among growers include:

  • Green Gem: The slow-growing specimen features a rounded canopy and is known for its winter hardiness. The leaves are dark green, glossy, and maintain their color well into December. The Green Gem doesn't require as much pruning as its cousins, which is why it is a top pick among hobby gardeners.
  • Green Mountain: This type of Box tree has a more pyramidal shape and can easily be shaped into a cone and used as a topiary or decorative shrub. The Green Mountain is also revered for its strong branches and round leaves.
Green Mountain Box Trees
  • Green Velvet: The attractive Box tree type features sturdy green leaves and shapes well after a single pruning. Its dense, compact growth makes it an excellent privacy barrier that your neighbors will not be able to see through.

The Many Looks of the Box Tree

Box topiary trees
round topiary box trees
box tree in planter box
beautifully trimmed spiral topiary boxwood tree
Boxwood hedge in garden
Young box hedging (buxus sempervirens) plants
Mature Box tree on coast
Boxwood ball in winter
Garden with trimmed box trees

Where the Box Grows

Box trees are hearty specimens that grow around the world, including:

  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Africa
  • Madagascar
  • South America
  • Central America
  • North America

The trees prefer moist, well-drained soil and partial sunlight. Most varieties of the trees prosper in cooler climates, though some types can tolerate warmer conditions. Overall, the Box tree is quite adaptable and can survive drought conditions, provided it spends most of the day in a shady area.

Japanese Boxwood

Popular Uses

Box trees may not be tall, but they are certainly useful. In fact, the tree's wood is treasured around the world for its remarkable strength and durability. The fine grain hardwood is a top pick for carving as it resists splitting and chipping.

The wood is also used to create:

  • Music boxes
  • Jewelry boxes
  • Chests
  • Crates
  • Combs
  • Chess pieces
  • Stamps
  • Musical instruments
  • Cabinets
  • Caskets

In addition to crafting high-end string instruments with Box wood, some artisans take scrap pieces of the timber and transform them into chin rests and turning pegs on violins.

Boxwood Checker Board

Interesting Facts

The uses for Box tree wood are virtually endless, but what many people don't realize is that the timber's durability has its pitfalls. One of the downfalls of working with Box tree wood is that it is so heavy that it sinks in water instead of floating.

Other interesting facts about the Box tree include:

  • Smaller specimens of the tree are used during the holidays.
  • Some people choose to decorate the evergreen like a traditional Christmas tree and place it inside or outside their residence to add to the festivities.
  • Box tree foliage is often used as a substitute for milestone.
  • Box trees tend to expand beyond a grower's expectations.
  • Box trees may be short, but their spread can overtake neighboring plants. Consequently, in some parts of the world, the Box tree is considered an invasive plant and its growth is discouraged. To avoid damaging surrounding plants and shrubs, plant Box trees a full 15 to 20 feet away from other greens.

Another fact to consider before adding the Box tree to your property is that parts of the specimen are poisonous. If you have small children or pets that play outside, you will want to erect a fence around your Box tree so no part of it is consumed by curious kids or animals.

Chinese Boxwood Bonsai (Buxus sinica)

Box Diseases

The Box tree's wood is among the strongest in the world. However, the specimen is far from indestructible. In fact, the Box tree is susceptible to a couple of major diseases that can compromise its health and overall appearance, including:

  • Phytophthora Root Rot: This disease attacks the tree's leaves turning them from light green to yellow, bronze, or sand-colored. Root rot also causes the leaves to curl and drop prematurely. In severe cases, the trunk will become infected and the tree will eventually die.
  • Stem Blight: This fungal disease targets the tree's leaves and twigs. Symptoms include an orange or bronze coloring on the tips of twigs. Also, infected twigs die back and leaves shrivel before falling prematurely.

In addition, the same fungus that causes stem blight can lead to wilt and cankers in some types of Box trees. Symptoms include premature leaf drop and the appearance of dark brown to black oozing spores.

Box Care

Many homeowners plant Box trees as privacy hedges in traditional and contemporary gardens. While the shrubby specimen makes for an excellent border, if you don't care for it properly, you will be left with a tangled mess.

To get the most out of your Box tree investment, consider the following:

  • Due to their diminutive appearance, you will likely have to plant at least three or four Box trees in order to create a decent sized hedge.
  • Pruning must take place on a regular basis in order to maintain a desirable shape. In addition, because the Box tree is such a slow grower, you need to be very careful when shearing its branches. If you make a mistake you will be forced to live with it for quite a while.
  • Box trees have shallow, fibrous root systems. Consequently, it is not wise to plant a Box specimen near sidewalks or other structures that may be affected by its root growth.
  • Cool, moist soil is preferred by most Box tree types; however, to avoid Root Rot do not allow the tree to sit in standing water for long periods of time.
  • Box trees need partial to full sunlight in order to thrive. As such, you should avoid planting the trees near other specimens that produce a lot of shade.
Man trimming Boxwood ball

Box Tree Versatility

There are many ways you can use this slow-growing plant for a landscaping statement. You can make a hedge, formal garden and even a bonsai plant from this amazing plant.

Box Trees