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When searching for a suitable evergreen groundcover for edging a sunny garden bed or delineating paths, even for that classic low-growing foundation planting, consider the native “boxwood,” Pachistima myrsinites.
Looking somewhat similar to both the dwarf English Boxwood and Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata), Pachistima (or Paxistima, as it’s also commonly spelled), is a hardy, no-muss-no-fuss low-growing evergreen native shrub worthy of attention. Dark green, slightly toothed leaves are borne in opposite pairs along the prostrate stems. Its truly unique feature is the flower, emerging in clusters appearing at the base of the leaf axils, similar in appearance to Euonymous, rather than boxwood or Japanese holly.
Did I already say it was evergreen? Did I already describe the leaves as beautifully dark green? Did I already say that in flower it is a particularly beautiful specimen? Frankly, this shrub is a bit of a sleeper – not so common in the nursery trade, but should be! – request it, ask for it, and maybe it will become more commonly available to gardeners, as it should! It is virtually trouble-free if given enough sun and proper drainage, and should be more readily available to northwest gardeners!
Pachistima/Paxistima tops out at three feet in height; in full sun, more likely a compact eighteen inches or so. Not troubled by much in the way of pests and diseases, its only major requirement is to be place in mostly sun and in well-drained soil. Yes, it tends to grow best in higher elevations east of the Cascades and in the Columbia River Gorge. That is simply a clue to its preferences; there is nothing that indicates it really prefers a container or rock garden like Lewisia or Penstemon; but well-amended soil will make it grow more lushly and happily.
Although not troubled much by pests and diseases, its preference for well-drained soil, winter wet conditions and accompanying fungal diseases might be an issue in the winter-wet Willamette Valley. But just amend the planting area accordingly; consider adding pumice. If you live in an area visited by deer, you may have problems since deer love this plant and will pick it clean.
The boxwood's compact, evergreen beauty and alluring ruby jewel tiny flower display along with its year-round solid presence makes it a more than worthy candidate for the garden!
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Family: Celastraceae (Bittersweet)
Genus: Pachistima (Paxistima, commonly)
Common name: Oregon Boxwood, Mountain Boxwood
Native Range: Common throughout the western United States and Canada, in dense woods to open rocky areas, from sea level to nearly timberline.
Characteristics: Low growing, evergreen groundcover (to 3’) with finely toothed, dark green leaves and tiny red flowers forming clusters at the base of the leaf axils.
Culture: Grows best in full sun to partial shade, with well-drained soil. Tends to get leggy in too much shade.
Pests/Diseases: None noted.