A. microphylla ‘variegata’.
A. microphylla ‘variegata’. / Outlawgarden

The Boxleaf azara

  • Also called the Vanilla Tree, this dainty shrub or small tree has very small dark-green glossy leaves and heavily scented yellow flowers in spring

The Boxleaf azara or Azara microphylla is a graceful perennial with downward arching branches. Once mature it can reach up to eight metres tall in ideal situations but is more likely to be around four to five metres if left to grow unchecked. It is native to Chile and South America and a member of the Salicaceae family.

Azara will grow in sun or shade and is evergreen. The small leaves grow in pairs; the second leaf is tiny and not really a true leaf but a leaflet. The flowers form in early spring in the leaf axils but they don’t have petals, just fluffy stamens which exude a warm spicy scent which has been likened to white chocolate and vanilla.

In warm climates, orange-red berries appear in the autumn which attracts hungry birds. It is an evergreen although very cold weather may cause it to drop its leaves. It is not frost hardy and the base of the plant should be given a thick layer of mulch to protect the roots in winter.

A. microphylla.

A. microphylla. / Outlawgarden

Once established it will tolerate some short periods of drought but responds best to regular watering. It needs a well-drained soil to which plenty of organic material has been mixed in and will happily grow in borders or a large pot, in full sun or shade.

A. microphylla ‘Variegata’ is a variegated form that was developed in Ireland, the leaves are strikingly edged with cream and the flowers are showier than the A. microphylla. It is very slow growing and not as hardy as A. microphylla.

A. serrata, commonly called ‘saw-toothed azara’ has larger coarser leaves.

Azara is a low maintenance plant and rarely needs pruning. It can be propagated from semi-ripe cuttings taken in the summer.