If you’re looking for an exotic tree that offers unusual foliage but is easy to grow, try an azara in your garden. This native of South America has tiny glossy leaves, a tidy upright habit, and super cute pompom flowers. It requires little to no pruning and stays evergreen for those down to zone 7. At its tallest, it’s 15-20 feet and maybe 6 feet wide. I grow three azaras in my yard and I adore them. They all offer unique gifts.
The straight species of azara microphylla or Box-Leaf Azara is a dark green wonder. Its vertical branches grow straight up, not very sideways, and its rich color poses a brilliant contrast to my purple smokebush. It could also contrast well with a blue juniper or variegated euonymous or eleagnus. In late winter, the flowers pop out in round yellow fuzzies that smell sweet. In the rain, the miniscule leaves are glossy and deeply colored. I grow mine in full sun but in a bed that gets cold winter shade, which lowers the zone from 8 to 7. Still, it does just fine.
I love love love this azara (azara microphylla ‘Variegata.’) It’s got the same tiny leaves but they’re green and creamy yellow, making for a pretty, delicate pattern. This form is more splayed with a vertical structure and large fans branching out at angles. I’ve paired it with a contorted filbert whose curly branches and purple leaves create a stunning contrast. I grow this azara near my living room window so I can enjoy it from indoors in winter. It offers graceful privacy there, so much that I’ve never hung a curtain. It is slightly more tender, hardy down to zone 8, but with it near the house and exposed to the west, mine has always survived the occasional snow and frigid temps nicely.
Andean Gold, Saw-toothed Azara
The Andean Gold azara (azara serrata) is a relatively new introduction (see top photo for blooms) and it’s already thriving in my garden. Plant explorer Dan Hinkley brought this fast-growing tree back from Chile and arguably it feels the most exotic of all the azaras. While it still sports smallish leaves, they are serrated, which adds extra interest. Also, the pompom flowers are larger, deeper yellow, and wildly fragrant. I grow this one along my fence to screen out my neighbor’s window. Though it’s the widest of the three azaras, perhaps even rangy, it still grows in almost a flat oval, behaving in the tighter driveway bed while offering a lovely evergreen backdrop.
The drawback to azaras is they aren’t inexpensive and are sometimes hard to find, though recently I’ve seen the straight species offered more and more in nurseries. If you find one, even a small one, get it. They grow discreetly but quickly. And I haven’t met anyone whose ever regretting planting one, including me.