Buxus sempervirens

Blueberries Engraving

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Flowering branch of evergreen box in May [life size). Lower left; male flower (X121-Lower right: female flower (X12).

Box is one of our few evergreen broadieaved trees. Its leaves, which are set in pairs along the twigs, are small and oval. Their upper surfaces are a glossy dark green, while the under surfaces are paler. The leaf texture is tough and leathery and altogether box is a very easy tree to identify by its leaf characters.

These leaves are adapted to resist water loss in dry places, and box is typically a tree of dry limestone soils. It has an extensive range from Asia Minor across central Europe to south-east England, and is particularly common on limestone rocks in the Jura and other hill ranges of eastern France. In England it only grows wild at a very few places, all of them having lime-rich soils. The largest grove is on Box Hill, a National Trust property near Dorking in Surrey, where it grows on a very shallow soil over chalk It is also found on a chalk formation near Chequers in the Chiltern Hills north-west of London, and at Box on the Cotswold limestone of Gloucestershire. Et grows as underwood below beeches and can stand a surprising degree of shade. Its bark is pale grey, broken up into numerous small squares.

Box will only flower if it is left to grow unclipped. The flowers are small and yellow. They open in March in dusters set in the leaf axils. Each cluster holds both male and female flowers, the latter being set centrally. Each male flower consists of four petals with four stamens set within them. The female flower also has four petals; its central ovary bears three stigmas. Box fruits, which ripen in October, are pale grey papery capsules, topped by the horn-shaped remains of stigmas. Each pod holds a large number of small hard black seeds, which gradually escape and become scattered through the woods. Natural seedlings can often be found on Box Hill; their first pair of seed-leaves are deciduous, but all later leaves are evergreen.

In cultivation, box is usually seen as a low shrub, kept closely clipped to form a pleasing, neat dense evergreen hedge or border.

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Flowering branch of evergreen box in May [life size). Lower left; male flower (X121-Lower right: female flower (X12).

The dwarf strain used for this purpose is increased by dividing the clumps, so that each segment holds a group of roots.

Larger box bushes are often trained into artificial shapes, by the art of topiary. You can train a box bush into the form of a globe, a bench, or even a peacock. Box stands up to this treatment because it shoots again readily after dipping; since its leaves stand deep shade they continue to flourish very dose to one another, so forming a dense wall of green foliage.

The wood of box is the hardest and heaviest that can be grown in Britain, But our few woods are so small and precious that none is harvested here; the small amount needed is imported from Turkey. Boxwood is bright orange-brown in colour, and can be polished to give a very smooth and attractive surface. It is used for rulers and drawing instruments that must be exact in size, and carry neat and accurate scales, Woodcarvers use it for the very finest artistic sculpture. It is also used by artists to make wooti engravings, which differ from ordinary woodcuts in their far finer texture and much longer wear. In wood engraving the artist uses very fine and sharp tools to cut his design on the end-grain of a piece of boxwood. End-grain is the surface that is seen on across-section of a log. and as the stems of box are so small, a number of them have to be built up into a composite wood block before any sizeable picture can be engraved. This exacting technique was used for many of the cover pictures of the Forestry Commission's guide books, which were both drawn and engraved by Mr. George Mackley. The process was first developed by Thomas Bewick, the Northumbrian artist and naturalist, about the year 1800.

The largest box trees recorded in England have reached heights of 9m with mink 0.6m round.

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Fruiting branch of box ยก0 October, showing seed capsules (life size).

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