I have growing here three of the forty or so Illicium species of shrubs which come from India, East Asia and the Americas. The family is distinctive in that the leaves when crushed are all aromatic to varying degrees and the flowers are scented. One, Illicium verum provides the spice “Star Anise” and others, that look very similar, are used a little for medicine in their home countries but are quite poisonous if taken irresponsibly.
The genus name derives from the Latin for “allurement” in reference to the perfume from the species.
The species have shiny, simple leaves and are very shade tolerant although they will grow in full sun. In semi-shade they keep their compact habit and look very attractive growing under bigger trees.
The species growing here are:-
- Illicium anisatum (Japanese Star Anise) comes from Japan and Taiwan. Used in Temples, where it is burnt as incense, it is toxic and can easily be confused with the true Chinese Star Anise of commerce. Flowers are white to cream.
- Illicium henryii. (Henry’s Anise Tree). This very shade tolerant tree comes from Central and western China and has flowers ranging from pink to deep crimson. Crushed leaves smell a little like liquorice.
- Illicium simonsii from China, Myanmar and NE India has creamy yellow to white flowers.
These Asian species appreciate free draining soils and regular moisture over dry times. In cultivation they mostly grow to about three metres. They can be pruned back hard if one needs to.
Generally these plants are not easy to find in Garden Centres but the cultivar I. anisatum “Lemon Squeeze” is available occasionally.