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What is Azara?

Terrie Brockmann
Terrie Brockmann

Plants in the Azara genus of the willow, or Salicaceae, family generally are evergreen shrubs from Chile. Most of these plants require a warm to temperate climate to survive. Although the plants usually bear fragrant flowers, gardeners often appreciate them for their colorful berries. Azara is a small genus containing only ten species, and growers cultivate almost all of them.

Generally, Azara plants have simple, glossy leaves that may be toothed or entire, meaning the leaf edges are smooth. They grow in alternate pairs on woody stems. The flowers usually are small and petalless with showy stamen, resembling the mimosa flowers. The berries may be mauve or white, depending on the species, variety, or cultivar. In their native regions, Azara plants grow in woodlot margins and by lakes. In garden areas, they frequently require some shelter, such as a wall, but with full to dappled sun.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

The box-leaf Azara, or A. microphylla, is a very popular tree that growers value for the strongly scented flowers and orange berries. This shrub may grow to heights of more than 30 feet (10 m) with a 12-foot (about 4-m) spread. The hairless leaves often are between 0.25 to 1 inch (about 0.6 to 2.5 cm), and the flowers have an average diameter of 0.5 inch (about 1.2 cm). The vanilla- or chocolate-scented flowers bloom in late winter to early spring. Gardeners typically use it as a specimen plant in the garden or as a greenhouse plant in colder climates.

A similar plant is the A. dentata, or toothed Azara. It is a shorter plant, growing to heights of about 10 feet (3 m) tall and wide. Its leaves often measure 1.5 inches (about 3.8 cm) long, but are felted or hairy on the underside. The scented flowers bloom from late spring to early summer, followed by orange or yellow berries. Some nurseries and growers confuse this one with A. serrata.

A. serrata, or white berry Azara, is a midsummer bloomer that has an average growth similar to A. dentata. Its oval-shaped, glossy leaves are dark green and toothed. They are larger than the previously mentioned species, measuring about 2.5 inches (6 cm) long and 0.75 inches (2 cm) across. The deep yellow or golden flowers grow in dense, umbrellike corymbs.

Goldspire, which is A. intergrifolia, often spreads 15 feet (about 5 m) by 10 feet (3 m). Growers named it for its fragrant, yellow flowerheads that bloom in mid-winter to early spring. The flowerheads may be up to 0.5 inches (1.5 cm) long. The diamond-shaped or obovate leaves are entire or toothless, hairless, and have a glossy dark green appearance. The leaves often are 2 to 3 inches (about 5 to 7.5 cm) long and 0.75 inches (about 2 cm) across.

Growers propagated the shrubs by sowing the seeds or by rooting cuttings of semi-ripe or mature wood. The plants previously belonged to the family Flacourtiaceae, which is now obsolete. Some nurseries and many reference materials may still label them under the defunct name.

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