The boxwood species originates from southern Europe and the Middle East.
As its botanical name indicates, boxwood is an evergreen species.
It requires a calcarous soil and does not like wet ground.
In Europe, the tree is more like a bush, 12 to 20 feet high, with very slow growth and a trunk that rarely gets bigger than six inches in diameter at the base.
The trunk grows about half an inch in diameter and 20 in height in 10 to 15 years.
rectangle to enlarge.
Boxwood trees can live up to six hundred years. In France, some were found to be more than four hundred years old.
During the 18th C., boxwood was used to fertilize fields: "Looking for the worse field, if there is a boxwood tree, the soil underneath it will be rich, since the leaves fallen each year will have successively fertilized and improved it." (Departmental archives from Herault, Serie D, cote 181-1773).
There are many sub-species; Buxus suffruticosa, the dwarf one is used for garden edges.
Ideal for topiaries (Buxus sempervirens rotundifolia), it has been widely used as a landscaping species. Already in Roman times, it adorned many gardens: "Pline's mansion in Tusculum was full of boxwood trees sculped in the shape of animals. The architect or owner's initials were sculpted with boxwood throughout the garden." ("Histoire du buis", Dr. Henri Leclerc, Paris, 1922).
Some view boxwood as a medicinal plant, and others as a dangerous poison. Popular medecine recommended its use as a laxative, a diaphoretic and a cholalogue.
One of its suspected benefits is its high anti-flu efficiency. Studies are also underway to use a boxwood extract, the SPV 30, in complementary treatment against HIV.
One could write a whole book about traditions and rites related to boxwood.
This light yellow, fine grained wood is one of the most homogeneous and is highly prized by sculptors and woodworkers since it can be worked with great precision (its fine grain could be compared to ivory.) In the Middle-Age, boxwood was used to create template with complicated forms. These were then used to hammer gold or silversmith pieces.
During the 15th C., boxwood was used a lot for engraving and printing. It was also considered the best wood to carve molds since it can be finely sculpted hence reproduce the most minute details.
And of course, the boxwood is the prime wood for wind instruments. In Virgil's time, Minerve recommended it for flutes :
Ut daret, effeci, tibia longa sonos.