I first encountered this shrub when a customer presented me with a photo of an evergreen shrub, much like a Rhododendron, but with deep crimson star-like blooms. Some how we managed to name this plant as a Illicium but there it remained as just a photo for a few years. More recently I've began to noticed more mainstream nurseries listing it and every year newer varieties seems to be dribbling out from production. My own garden boasts a couple of varieties with room still to add one or more as the selection of choice continues to grow. No longer is it just found as a typed listing in a mail-order plant catalog.
|Rare white flowered form|
So given the fact that the flowers are fishy and the foliage is toxic, why grow Illicum? Easy, its one of a few native evergreen shrubs for shade that deer detest and secondly, there's a lot of different varieties now to choose from.
Below is a list of some of the varieties that have passed through the garden center at different points.
A worthwhile cousin to mention, although not as flashy, is the Yellow, Star or Ocala Anise Tree, Illicum parviflorum. A native to Florida's central moist woodlands and swamps, this evergreen shrub or small tree does equally well in Virginian gardens too. It is slightly bigger than the Purple Anise at 10-15' tall and 6-10' wide and can colonize through root suckers. The olive green foliage emits the same fragrance as all Anise shrubs and is left alone by browsing animals. Yellowy- green flowers appear in late may but for the most part go unnoticed. Mostly for these reasons it lends itself well to hedging as it lacks the drama and refinement that the Purple Anise has and responds well to shearing and training. Best growing in moist sites in light shade but can tolerate more sun as long as they are provided with uniformed moisture.
These variations may not keep the species true to form but it does improve its marketability. Through the work of many nursery people, this obscure and little known shrub is beginning its march to becoming a potential mainstay of domestic landscapes. Any time you can find a plant that isn't favored by deer it becomes worthy of attention, and this plant deserves all the respect in the world. March on!