Azara microphylla

On a breezy day in March the whole garden smells of vanilla. I have a friend who says it smells of custard and another who says it smells of chocolate, so everyone seems to associate the smell with sweet food of some sort. But I think it is definitely vanilla. It is not just  a faint, elusive whiff  like that of violets. It really pervades the garden; the tiny yellow tufts of Azara microphylla pack a punch quite out of proportion to their very modest size.
The flowers are best viewed from underneath the branch.  As you can see they are similar to those of Mimosa but much smaller.  There are no petals, just little tufts of stamens which grow  from between the axils of the leaves. The leaves are small; hence the name ‘microphylla’. They are glossy and arranged on the branches in a herringbone pattern a bit like those of Cotoneaster horizontalis, except the leaves are of unequal size. The tree  is evergreen and so  has a pleasing appearance all year round.
The tree comes from Chile where it is called rather endearingly ‘Chin-Chin’. We call it ‘Azara‘ after an eighteenth century Spanish naturalist: Felix de Azara. It can grow to about 20ft tall but I had one in a previous garden which was many years old and it was no taller than about 14 ft. It needs a sheltered position; my previous one was in the shelter of a woodland garden but now I grow it with the protection of a wall. The last two hard winters blackened some of the leaves but it recovered and it looks wonderful this year.

You can get a variegated one which is slower growing but I don’t know why you would want to when this one has such nice glossy leaves. If you love  the smell of vanilla and have a sheltered spot then Azara microphylla is the tree to go for.

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36 Responses to Azara microphylla

  1. Laura Bloomsbury says:

    thanks for all the details – the aroma looks scintillating! one for the imaginary garden wishlist

  2. Julie says:

    This sounds lovely, our current garden is too exposed to grow an Azara, but its certainly something I hope to grow in the future.

  3. Chloris says:

    It is something to bear in mind then for when you have the right conditions. I don’t know about you, but I really value anything that is fragrant.

  4. Pauline says:

    This sounds to be a lovely tree, anything that reminds me of food gets my vote!

  5. croftgarden says:

    Thank you for evoking memories of a wonderful tree which I grew in my last garden. It really should be more widely appreciated it is an absolute gem.

    • Chloris says:

      I don’ t understand why it is not better known. Hardly anyone seems to grow it. I imagine it would be out of the question where you live now. All those bracing winds!

  6. pbmgarden says:

    I’m not familiar with this tree but must be on the lookout. The scent of vanilla in the garden would be fine with me.

  7. Chloris says:

    I’ m not sure whether your winters might be a little cold for it. A nurseryman there would be able to tell you. The scent of vanilla is delicious.

  8. Flighty says:

    That sounds, and looks, like an ideal tree for a small garden. xx

  9. Chloris says:

    It is as long as there is some shelter. It can’t stand an exposed site.

  10. rusty duck says:

    I’m tempted by that one!

  11. Cathy says:

    Not heard of that one – or its Chilean name! This winter I have really come to appreciate fragrance in the garden and if it wasn’t for the yellow (sorry!) flowers I might consider this – is there much a trunk, or is it quite bushy?

  12. Chloris says:

    Mine is bushy so you don’t get to see much of the trunk. I let it grow like that because I like the foliage. What have you got against yellow flowers.? They are so tiny that you only really notice them if you stand underneath the branches and look up. It smells wonderful.

  13. Julie says:

    This is new to me as well Chloris. I love the scent of vanilla and anything evergreen is always valuable in the winter. I am not sure I have a sheltered enough position for it, but I am going to make a note of the name and see if I can find somewhere to try it.

  14. Kris P says:

    This is the 2nd time in 2 weeks that I’ve come across a reference to this plant. Blooms in my favorite color and fragrance too! Although I can’t ever recall seeing it locally, my garden guide claims it’s suitable for my area so I think I may have to hunt about for it (provided that I can find a place to put it, that is).

    • Chloris says:

      I am sure it would do very well for you as you wouldn’t need to worry about frost. If you are worried about space the variegated form is slower growing.

  15. bittster says:

    I wouldn’t complain about a garden wafting with vanilla scents! You’re lucky to be able to grow all those goodies from Chile, around here they would turn belly up during the first winter storm.

  16. Alain says:

    It looks like a beautiful small tree with a very pleasant perfume. I wish I could grow it!

  17. Chloris says:

    It is beautiful but you are right I don’t think it would like living in Canada.

  18. I love this tree too! Ours fell over in the strong winds a couple of years ago right on top of some imperial fritilleries that were about to flower for the first time – doh! We hoiked it back up, staked it and it hasn’t moved since. The fritilleries still haven’t flowered, I think they are in the wrong place but we always forget to dig them up until it is too late. This year we will definitely get them moved…….

    • Chloris says:

      Crown Imperials are a bit temperamental. Some of mine don’t flower some years. I feed them and tuck them up in a nice layer of leaf mould and they are OK again the following year. I have found that they sulk for a year or two if you move them.

  19. Thanks for this, I do not know this tree but vanilla, custard, chocolate sounds delicious. I am going to suggest it for my chum with a walled garden.

  20. Robbie says:

    Oh my..vanilla scent…I wish I could stuff it in my small space! I also wish the computer provided scent! We still have snow + nothing but mud still around here…:-(, but spring is around the corner:-)

  21. Yet again, another plant that’s on my shopping list. I had one till last year when it finally gave up after struggling from having been frost damaged. I really miss it! The scent is as you describe – vanilla, chocolate, custard, the lot! I had it for quite a few years and it had become about 8ft tall against a shady fence, doing well. And the scent was knock-out! I’m planning a trip to Stone Cottage nursery next month to replace it, and invest in a few more scented gems! I’ll keep you posted!

  22. Anna says:

    Mmmmm – vanilla, custard, chocolate – I can smell a cake in the making Chloris 🙂 It’s amazing how such tiny flowers can pack such a punch scent wise.

  23. Chloris says:

    Well I shan’t be cooking with my Azara but I have lots of Viola odorata and I shall be crystallising those for decorating cakes.

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