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What is a Winter Gem Boxwood?

By Donn Saylor
Updated May 16, 2024
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The winter gem boxwood is an evergreen shrub that is extremely durable and often planted to establish borders, boundaries, or separate spaces in a yard or garden. Its foliage is deep green during the warmer seasons, and in the colder months, it maintains an undercurrent of green while taking on a bronze, gold, or brown hue.

Native to Japan, the boxwood is legendary for its hard, solid bark, which was historically utilized to make sturdy containers and ornamental boxes. The winter gem variety is believed by many experts to have developed from a mutation in the hybrid boxwood. Its scientific name is Buxus microphylla japonica.

Classified as a type of littleleaf boxwood shrub, this evergreen has small, oval-shaped leaves that withstand the elements with ease. In spring, the plant produces minute, almost invisible, yellowish green buds. These blossoms are generally shaped like a star and situated at the base of the leaves. Their sweet scent is highly attractive to bees and other insects.

Though the flowers of the winter gem boxwood have a pleasing scent, the same can not be said for the rest of the shrub. The leaves produce a pungent odor similar to the noxious fumes of a skunk. As appealing as the shrub is as an ornamental landscaping plant, its distinct aroma is a major drawback for many.

For the boxwood to flourish, it requires full to partial levels of sunlight. It needs to be watered on a weekly basis, and perhaps more during the summer months. After the springtime flowering, it may be necessary to prune the shrub to maintain its shape.

This species is a moderately sized shrub that typically grows to be between 2 feet (about 0.6 meters) and 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall. As they grow, the shrubs take on a compact, slightly plump appearance.

Boxwoods are a popular choice for landscaping and can be used to delineate different sections of a garden, yard, or property border. They are also widely used as a cover-up, hiding unsightly foundations or other unattractive aspects of a property. Many landscapers shear, trim, and shape them into stately, formal-looking shrubs. One can be used as a background plant or as a focal point within a garden; plants with red flowers, red leaves, or red berries offer a fashionable complement to the plant's rich green.

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Discussion Comments
By Fa5t3r — On May 05, 2013

Bear in mind that winter gem is only one kind of boxwood and that there are plenty of other kinds if you want something with different qualities.

Green mountain boxwood, for example, grows larger than most of the others and is often used to make ornamental shapes for lawns and such.

And some of them will be better for some climates or purposes than others. I'm not really an expert, but there is a lot of information comparing them online if you are trying to decide whether to pick a green velvet boxwood or a Japanese boxwood for your hedge.

By Ana1234 — On May 04, 2013

@clintflint - You probably have smelled one before, since they are very popular. They aren't the prettiest smelling things in the world but I don't think they're that bad either. Most people probably wouldn't even notice. And they get used a lot as hedges, which means there would be a whole bunch of them in a row, so if they were that bad people would definitely not plant them like that.

By clintflint — On May 03, 2013

This shrub sounds like the kind of landscaping plant that you'd want to see in another setting before you decide to plant one for yourself. This is particularly true if you have a micro-climate where scents are going to linger (perhaps you don't get much wind, or have a humid climate).

I've never smelled one of them before, but if it's true that they are a bit like a skunk, it's something that I would want to give a miss.

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