Little-used but attractive clan of shrubs or small trees noted for both foliage and flowers. Thick, leathery, glossy leaves are anise-scented when crushed; spring flowers have many petal-like segments and are reminiscent of small magnolia blossoms. Fruit that follows are small, one-sided pods arranged in a ring. The star anise of Chinese cookery is the fruit of the tropical tree I. verum, apparently not grown in North America. All like rich soil with abundant organic material. Big, bold foliage gives the impression of rhododendrons. Good understory plants for woodland gardens; also useful for screening. Seldom need pruning. Unappealing to deer.
I. anisatum. JAPANESE ANISE. Native to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan. To 610 ft. (possibly 15 ft.) tall, 68 ft. wide; conical growth habit. Oval to lance-shaped, blunt-tipped, glossy leaves to 5 in. long, 2 in. wide are held perpendicular to the stems. Inch-wide, scentless flowers on short, nodding stalks cluster in leaf axils; they open yellowish green, then fade to creamy white. Much planted in Buddhist cemeteries; cut branches are used to decorate graves. Highly fragrant wood is used for incense.
I. floridanum. FLORIDA ANISE. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native Florida to Louisiana. Reaches 610 ft. or taller, equally wide. Pointed oval leaves 6 in. long and 2 in. wide, with prominent midribs. Waxy, nodding, maroon flowers 12 in. across on 112- to 2-in.-long stalks; most people find scent unpleasant. I. f. album is white flowered. 'Halley's Comet' is more compact, with larger, redder flowers than the species; often blooms into fall. 'Variegatum' has maroon- purple flowers with subtle green-on-green leaf variegation. Each leaf of vigorous 'Pink Frost' is edged in cream; entire leaf turns pink in fall. 'Shady Lady' has leaves edged in white; its flowers are soft pink. 'Woodland Ruby' is a hybrid with ruby-pink, 2-in. flowers shaped like starfish; flowering period extends through summer.
I. mexicanum. MEXICAN ANISE. Shrub. Native to northern Mexico. Grows 48 ft. tall and nearly as wide, with narrowly oval, pointed, medium-green leaves held on red stems. Fragrant, reddish pink flowers to 2 in. across are produced mainly in spring, with some repeat bloom through summer. 'Aztec Fire' has larger flowers held on longer stems and thus further out from the foliage, making for a showier plant in bloom.
I. parviflorum. YELLOW ANISE. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to Florida. Grows 1520 ft. tall, 1015 ft. wide, with 4-in., oblong, olive-green leaves and 12-in. yellow-green flowers. Can form small colonies by suckering. More tolerant of sun and dry soil than other anise trees, but equally at home in damp shade. 'Florida Sunshine' is vigorous and compact, reaching 68 ft. tall and 46 ft. wide; its leaves are chartreuse to golden, shading to bright yellow with cooler weather.