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 Albania Croatia Cyprus Greece Israel Jordan Lebanon Syria Turkey
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).
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.’