Illicium is a genus of 40- 50 species of broadleaf evergreen shrubs and small trees and belong to the the starvine family, Schisandraceae. They are found principally in east and southeast Asia with a smaller number in southeastern United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean islands. Although not familiar as ornamentals, one species is well-known in the culinary world as the spice, star anise (Illicium verum). Most of the other species of Illicium, however, contain toxic compounds and are therefore not edible. Photo Credit Wikipedia

The plants generally live in the understory, like shade and consistent moisture, and are tolerant of many different soil types. In the cooler part of their range, however, they will do better in sun or very light shade. All of the species tend to be somewhat tender and thrive in areas of high summer temperatures and humidity. Plants can be raised from seed and/or cuttings, are easy to transplant, and need little pruning because they have an attractive rounded shape. They are considered pest and disease free.

The alternate leaves are tough and glossy, vary in size and shape, and are fragrant when crushed. The flowers usually appear singly in the spring in leaf axils towards the shoot tips, vary in size and color, and often have a scent that is not considered pleasant. They consist of few to many tepals surrounding few to many stamens and pistils. The aggregate fruit is composed of one seeded follicles arranged in a star-shape. The genus name, Illicium, comes from the Latin word illicere, meaning to allure, referring to the fragrance of many species.

The following species of Illicium are recommended for gardens in the southeastern US where they can be used for hedges, screens, borders, and foundation plantings as well as winter, shade and woodland gardens.

Japanese Star Anise (Illicium anisatum)

This native of Japan and Korea has leathery, green leaves that are 2-4″ long, and oval with wavy margins. They are carried perpendicular to the stem and remain fresh for a long time after cutting, so are valued for flower arrangements. In spring, clusters of creamy-white flowers about 1″ across appear. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Height: 6-15′

Bloom Color: Creamy-white

Bloom Time: Spring

Hardiness: Zones 7-9

Purple Anise (Illicium floridanum aka I. mexicanum)

Native to the southeastern United States and northern Mexico, this shrub is also known as Florida anise tree and poison bay. It bears terminal whorls of olive-green leaves that are elliptic to lanceolate, and 2-6” long. In spring, nodding, maroon-purple flowers 1.2-2″ across appear for 4-6 week bloom time. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Height: 6-10′ H

Bloom Color: Maroon-purple

Bloom Time: Spring

Hardiness: Zones 7-10

Henry Anise Tree (Illicium henryi)

This native of China has 4-6″ long dark green leaves and waxy pink to deep crimson flowers about 1″ across. Photo Credit: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Wikimedia Commons

Height: 6-20′

Bloom Color: Pink to dark crimson

Bloom Time: Spring

Hardiness: Zones 7-9

Yellow Anise Tree (Illicium parviflorum)

Also known as hardy anise shrub, Ocala anise, swamp star-anise, and small anise tree, this Florida native tends to form colonies by suckering. The shiny elliptic leaves are 2-4″ long, yellow-green when young and olive green with maturity. Inconspicuous yellow-green flowers 1/2″ across appear in the leaf axils in late spring. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Height: 10-15′

Bloom Color: Yellow-green

Bloom Time: Late spring

Hardiness: Zones 6-9

By Karen