A beautiful fragrant shrub
Common Name: Mexican mock orange, Mexican orange, Mexican orange blossom
Botanical Name: Choisya ternata
Form: compact, rounded
Plant Type: broadleaf evergreen shrub
Mature Size: 4’ to 8’ tall and wide
Origin: southwestern U.S., Mexico
Hardiness Zone: 7b to 10
Foliage: compound, trifoliate, 3 leaflets up to 3”, glossy, green, aromatic
Flowers: showy, fragrant, white, 1 1/4” wide, star-shaped in terminal clusters (corymbs), May, autumn and sporadically through summer, nectar rich
Exposure: full sun to part shade, plant in protected location
Soil: moist, rich, well-drained loam, drought tolerant once established
Uses: hedge specimen, border, foundation, cut flowers, containers (Zones 8 to 9), bee & pollinator gardens
Propagation: softwood cuttings in summer
Pruning: June to encourage more blossoms
Problems: subject to winter injury and wind burn
This beautiful, but tender plant, hails from the southwestern US and Mexico. It’s prized for its starry white flowers that smell and look like orange blossoms. But it’s not just the fragrant flowers that excite gardeners; their deep green, glossy leaves are deliciously aromatic smelling of citrus when they are crushed between fingers.
Flowering is so profuse and held at the ends of the stem often hiding the foliage. Peak flowering occurs in May and again in autumn, however, they also blossom sporadically throughout the summer. The blossoms are steeped in nectar and attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.
Choiysas are also valued for their versatility. With a pleasing round shape and deep green leaves, they can be used in many applications throughout the garden. They are perfect for foundation plantings (garden beds around the base of the house) and in borders where there’s a mix of trees, shrubs and perennials. Because Mexican mock oranges have gravitas, they make perfect accents that bring attention to benches and other garden areas. They are suitable for planters but only in warmer growing zones of 8 and 9 as they are not known for their hardiness.
Be patient if wind and/or the cold damages their tender leaves. Even if the tops die down due to a bad winter, their roots may still be alive. Instead of throwing them out just cut off the damage parts off when danger of frost has passed. Mix in compost around the outline of its canopy (dripline), and/or give it some fish or kelp fertilizer.
Mexican mock oranges perform best when grown in well drained, humus-rich loam. Mature well-established plants can withstand some drought but not frequently nor prolonged. In hot climates, protect from full afternoon sun as it may burn the tender foliage. A 3-inch mulch layer is essential to keeping choisyas healthy.
There are numerous types of Mexican mock orange: the species and a just a few cultivars. The species, as found in nature, has broader leaves than the cultivar ‘Aztec Pearl’, Choisya x dewitteana ‘Aztec Pearl’. Its leaves are composed of 3 narrow leaflets. Flowers are often flushed pink then mature to dazzling white. It’s a bigger shrub than its cousin, growing up to 8 feet tall and wide and is less hardy growing in zones 8 to 10. The Royal Horticultural Society honoured the Mexican mock orange with the prestigious Award of Garden Merit.
Another common cultivar bears the same broad foliage as the species, however instead of a deep green, they are yellow! New foliage has a golden hue, but as they mature they become yellow and sometimes a light green if they receive too much shade. They don't grow as fast as their counterparts and are smaller growing to 5 feet.