830 Serissa foetidaCommon Names: serissa, yellow-rim Family: Rubiaceae (madder Family)
Serissa is a diminutive evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub with tiny deep green leaves, pink flower buds and a profusion of little white funnel shaped flowers. Serissa has many upright wiry stems that branch freely and form a bushy dome only 2-4 ft (0.6-1.2 m) tall and wide. The foliage has a very fine texture with densely crowded opposite leaves to 3/4 in (1.9 cm) long. Bruised leaves have an unpleasant fetid or rotting smell. Serissa bears its pretty flowers from early spring until late autumn. They are about 1/2in (1.3 cm) across, with a tubular base and 4-6 spreading petal-like lobes.
'Variegata' has leaves margined with yellow. 'Flore Pleno' has double flowers and only gets 18 in (45.7 cm) tall. 'Variegated Pink' has pink flowers and leaves with creamy white margins. 'Mt. Fuji' has leaves with white streaks and margins. 'Kyoto' is very small, usually less than a foot in height. 'Sapporo' gets 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) tall and is said to be among the most cold hardy.
Serissa foetida is native to open woodlands and wet meadows in southeastern Asia. It is a popular bonsai subject in Japan, where many named cultivars have been selected.
CultureSerissa can get straggly after a few years unless it is pruned regularly. Prune after flowering to keep its fine dense form, and deadhead spent flowers to increase the blooming period. Light: Serissa does well in partial shade. Best results are from plants that have sun in the mornings and shade in the afternoons. Indoor plants need bright, indirect light. Moisture: Authorities recommend a soil that retains moisture. Serissa is not tolerant of drought. Water faithfully, especially during warm weather. If serissa gets too dry it may drop its leaves; if that happens do not water until new leaves come back or the roots will surly rot. For plants in the ground outdoors, mulch over the root zone, and don't allow grass to encroach. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 11. Hardiness varies among cultivars and even among individual plants. Some cultivars do poorly in the heat and humidity of zones 10 and 11. Most cultivars cannot tolerate freezing temperatures. Expect any serissa to drop its leaves when temperatures fall to near freezing. Propagation: Softwood cuttings can be rooted in spring; ripewood cuttings in summer. Serissa cuttings can even be rooted in a glass of water.
Serissa is one of the most popular of all bonsai subjects, but it can be difficult to maintain. It has a tendency to drop its leaves at the first sign of stress - too little water; too much water; too little light; too cold; too hot; just being moved to a new location, etc. Never water serissa when it is without leaves.
Use serissa as edging along paths and in front of borders. It makes a beautiful low hedge, and responds well to pruning. For massed hedges or edging, set plants about 12 in (30.5 cm) apart. Serissa also is used in front of foundations and in planter boxes.
The genus Serissa contains just this one species. Serissa's tidy habit and long blooming period make it an attractive hedge and edging plant. It was formerly widely planted in Florida gardens (serissa reminds one of boxwood), but has lost favor in recent years. The tiny evergreen leaves, gnarled trunk and frequent blooming make the little serissa a favorite among bonsai enthusiasts.
Steve Christman 10/17/00; updated 5/22/04, 1/4/09