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Buxus sempervirens
Buxus sinica foliage
Buxus henryi foliage
Buxus wallichiana foliage and seed capsules
Buxus sempervirens bark
Buxus sempervirens bark closeup


Buxus is a genus of about 70 species in the family Buxaceae. Common names include box (majority of English-speaking countries) or boxwood (North America).

The boxes are native to western and southern Europe, southwest, southern and eastern Asia, Africa, Madagascarmarker, northernmost South America, Central America, Mexicomarker and the Caribbeanmarker, with the majority of species tropical or subtropical; only the European and some Asian species are frost-tolerant. Centres of diversity occur in Cubamarker (about 30 species), China (17 species) and Madagascar (9 species).

They are slow-growing evergreen shrubs and small trees, growing to 2-12 m (rarely 15 m) tall. The leaves are opposite, rounded to lanceolate, and leathery; they are small in most species, typically 1.5-5 cm long and 0.3-2.5 cm broad, but up to 11 cm long and 5 cm broad in B. macrocarpa. The flowers are small and yellow-green, monoecious with both sexes present on a plant. The fruit is a small capsule 0.5-1.5 cm long (to 3 cm in B. macrocarpa), containing several small seeds.

The genus splits into three genetically distinct sections, each section in a different region, with the Eurasian species in one section, the African (except northwest Africa) and Madagascan species in the second, and the American species in the third. The African and American sections are genetically closer to each other than to the Eurasian section (Balthazar et al., 2000).

Selected species

Europe, northwest Africa, Asia
Africa, Madagascar
Americas


Symbolism and uses



Boxes are commonly used for hedges and topiary. Owing to the relatively high density of the wood (it is one of the few woods that is denser than water), boxwood is often used for chess pieces. Wooden chess sets almost always use boxwood for the white pieces and commonly use stained ("ebonized") boxwood for the black pieces, in lieu of ebony. Boxwood is also used for high quality violin and viola fittings (pegs and tailpiece), and formerly for wooden combs. The extremely fine end-grain of box makes it suitable for woodblock printing.

References

Balthazar, M. von, Peter K. Endress, P. K., and Qiu, Y.-L. 2000. Phylogenetic relationships in Buxaceae based on nuclear internal transcribed spacers and plastid ndhF sequences. Int. J. Plant Sci. 161(5): 785–792 (available online).

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