Boxwood

There are many colloquial names for boxwood (Pachystima myrsinites) including Oregon boxwood, myrtle boxwood, myrtlebush, mountain lover and falsebox. To further confuse, the genus name, Pachystima, is also spelled Paxistima and Pachistima in the literature. What a multitude of names and spellings for this low, densely branched, very leafy native shrub.

Boxwood grows in coniferous forests, on mountain slopes and in dry shady woods between 2,000 and 7,000 feet. It can be found in the Rocky Mountain States westward (except Nevada), Texas, Alberta and British Columbia.

An evergreen, boxwood usually does not grow more than 3 feet in height. It can be erect or prostrate. The bark is brown or reddish and the twigs are four-angled. After fire, new plants can sprout from buds on the taproot or the root crown.

The simple, opposite (or nearly opposite) leaves have oval to elliptical leaves, which are leathery, smooth and glabrous (not hairy). On short petioles, the leaves are rounded at the apex, narrow or rounded at the base and usually serrulate (toothed) above the base.

The numerous, small flowers are single or clustered in the leaf axils. The four greenish sepals are united at the base. Boxwood has four maroon or reddish petals. The four whitish stamens have filaments that are twice as long as the anthers. The superior, two-celled ovary has a two-lobed stigma and a short style.

Boxwood fruits are two-celled capsules which contain one or two seeds. Each seed is surrounded by a white, fleshy aril (appendage or extra growth associated with a seed). Boxwood seeds have a short period of viability.

Deer, elk, moose and mountain sheep use boxwood as winter browse. Grouse also use boxwood for winter survival. The decorative greenery of boxwood is much in demand for floral arrangements. Care must be taken in populated areas to not deplete boxwood stands for commercial reasons.

Pachystima, the genus name, is from the Greek “pachus” and “stima” meaning “thick” and “stigma” respectively. This name refers to the slightly thickened stigma in members of this genus. The species name, myrsinites, means “like myrsine (myrtle)”.

These boxwood specimens were growing along Spring Hill Trail in Mount Shasta CA (Shasta County).

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