A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Sarcococca ruscifolia - Polonium 210 In The Garden
Thursday, January 25, 2007

Arriving home a couple of days ago as I was about to open my front door when I was almost overcome by an extremely sweet and powerful fragrance. Yes, days are finally getting longer and spring is around the corner. It takes the only bush in my garden that blooms right now to remind me of this. That's Sarcococca ruscifolia the plain Jane of the garden in some gardens, but not in mine.

By mid January I have almost forgotten the short and dark days of November. The Christmas lights of December helped a bit. The fallen picket fence and the many leaning or damaged trees in my garden, including a large and shaped juniper that that had to be cut down, remind me that my garden is as human as I am and age takes its toll. Yet that powerful fragrance at my front door, the perfume of Sarcococca ruscifolia jars me into realizing that there will be some renewal of tissue in the spring and that all is not decay and death. But there is some death (so Rosemarys says) in the tiny flowers (smaller than my pinky's nail) of the Sweet Boxwood (also Sweet Box Wood or Vanilla Bush). In Spanish we say, "El que pega primero, pega dos veces," or he who hits first, hits twice. In the mid January garden most plants are dormant but Sarcococca ruscifolia is in full bloom and will remain so until the end of February. It simply has no competition from any other flowers in the garden. Not only is this a noble plant because of its flower's punch but the red berries of summer become are shiny and black and persist even now. I cut two branches for last night's scan and then left them in the kitchen. Rosemary said, "Alex it smells like a funeral parlour." I told her that the plant also had the name of Vanilla Plant. She agreed. I left the kitchen and came back and the fragrance now reminded me of honey.

Until I find someone who can explain how Sarcococca blooms do it, I will have to only marvel at the plant's uncommonly volatile perfume. Volatility is usually porportional to temperature. The warmer the day the more a fragrance will spread. Or at least this is what I thought. I wonder how in very low temperatures such a tiny flower's fragrance can spread. Could it be that this Asian plant is a garden's kind equivalent to the spreading capabilities of polonium 210?


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