Styrax officinalis L.

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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Styrax officinalis' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/styrax/styrax-officinalis/). Accessed 2020-02-24.

Genus

Common Names

  • Storax

Synonyms

  • Styrax officinarum Crantz

Glossary

References

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Credits

Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Styrax officinalis' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/styrax/styrax-officinalis/). Accessed 2020-02-24.

Shrub or small tree to 6 m. Branchlets whiteish stellate-pubescent, glabrescent. Leaves papery, 4.5–9.5 × 3.7–6.5 cm, broadly elliptic to broadly ovate or ovate oblong, densely whiteish stellate tomentose, three to five secondary veins on each side of the mid-rib, margin entire, apex acute to rounded; petiole 0.5–1.0 cm. Inflorescences axillary (pseudo-termainal) racemes, 2–6-flowered, to 5 cm long. Flowers 1.3–2.4 cm; calyx five-toothed, densely stellate tomentose; corolla tube 0.5–0.7 cm long, corolla lobes 1.5 cm long, oblong to oblanceolate. Stamen shorter that corolla, filaments sparsely pilose. Fruit globose, 1.2–1.4 cm long, dense stellate tomentose, apex with remains of style.

Distribution  AlbaniaCroatiaCyprusGreeceIsraelJordanLebanonSyriaTurkey

Habitat Dry rocky slopes, woods and thickets, to c. 1500 m asl.

USDA Hardiness Zone 7-9

RHS Hardiness Rating H5

Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)

Taxonomic note The confusion between S. officinalis and the Californian S. redivivus, long treated as conspecific despite the improbability of such a disjunction, is discussed in the account for S. redivivus.

This sweetly scented native of the eastern Mediterranean has been cultivated in the UK since the end of the 16th century. Despite its Mediterranean origin Styrax officinalis is hardy enough, but does thrive best in areas with high summer temperatures, comparable to its native range. It is a useful plant for adding some structure in a dry garden as it flowers well in hot dry summers, does not need irrigation during summer and provides autumn colour as the leaves turn yellow later in the year. It is more commonly grown in Europe than in North America Lobdell (2013). It is probably best planted young in spring and allowed to establish itself without supplementary watering or feeding: Bean’s view was that it was hardy in a sheltered spot provided that it was ‘not bloated by overfeeding’.

Bean (1981b) recorded the history of the medicinal product storax: ‘The fragrant resin known as “storax” is obtained from this shrub by wounding the stem and used to be imported in small pieces, “storax in the tear”, or in larger, masses “storax in the lump”. It was used medicinally as an expectorant, and there were also made from it “sundry excellent perfumes, pomanders, sweet waters, sweetbags, sweet washing-balls, and divers others sweet chains and bracelets”. Storax was also used as incense, and it is recorded that the dust cast up by the boring of an insect which attacks the wood was used in Greece for the same purpose.’ However, Clarke (1988) refuted this, citing recent opinions that storax actualy came from Liquidambar orientalis: ‘It has been suggested that the resin imported in earlier times as “storax” did not in fact come from this species but from Liquidambar officinalis (Meikle, Flora of Cyprus, Vol. 2, p. 1089 (1985)). Zohary, in Flora Palaestina, states positively that officinal storax did not come from S. officinalis.’


var. californica (Torr.) Rehd.

Synonyms
S. californica Torr

It is remarkable that this Californian styrax differs so little from S. officinalis that some botanists refuse to give it even varietal rank. See further in the article with Bot. Mag., t. 9653.

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