Tree of a Thousand Stars, Snow Rose

These small shrubs are much loved as bonsai for their tiny flowers which may occur 2-3 times yearly, gnarled trunks, and naturally miniature leaves. Most bonsai are S. foetida, of which many cultivars are available.

Probably the two most common bonsai purchased by the casual bonsai buyer in America are Juniperus and Serissa. Judging from the number of junked junipers and shriveled Serissas, beginners would be far happier with elm and Ficus. Serissa is a notoriously fussy bonsai. The good news is that they aren't that hard to keep alive. But considering that most people buy Serissa on impulse because the plant is so spectacular at the store, the bad news is bad indeed. The plant will generally drop its flowers within a day or two. Then the plant will drop its leaves. If the grower doesn't panic (and many Serissas are inadvertantly killed by panicing beginners who respond by drastically over/underwatering the plant) the plant will soon regrow its leaves. A power struggle then ensues. The grower soon discovers that the Serissa drops its leaves if it has too much water. Too little water. If it's too hot or too cold. If it's moved, or there is a shift in lighting or temperature. If you cough near it or use a vulgarity in its presence. If it doesn't like your looks.

Until someone develops Serissa subliminal motivation tapes, (the calming sound of waves upon the shore as voices whisper, "You are lush; you are green; you want to keep your leaves...") the ugly truth is that some growers develop a knack for the foibles of the Serissa, while others are doomed to wait hand and foot upon a plant which looks like it's auditioning for a role in "Les Miserables." However, because the plant is so lovely, widely available, and popular as a traditional bonsai, most of us try our hands at it at one time or another.


Partial sun for S. foetida, full sun for S.crassiramea. If kept indoors, needs 1000 Lux. Use of grow lamps for 12 hours daily is beneficial. Too little light will result in leggy growth.


Hardy to zone 9. Some growers bring them in when temps drop to 50F, others leave them outside until temps are in the 20s! Ideal winter temperatures range from 50-68F. More important than the actual temperature seems to be two factors: the plant dislikes a sudden change in lighting (many die from lack of light when brought indoors) and individual plants may be show different hardinesses (a Serissa grown outdoors from youth will withstand a greater variation in temperature than a Serissa purchased from a greenhouse). If brought indoors, do not position this plant near a heat source, or it will lose leaves. If kept outdoors year round, will drop leaves as the temperatures become colder.


Keep evenly moist. It generally needs lots of water during warm weather, so much that some authorities recommend placing the Serissa in a tray of water. Others warn against this, as it encourages root rot. Serissa is not a natural water-lover like bald cypress, so a water tray should not be necessary if you faithfully water at the first sign of dryness. However, if Serissa dries out, it will soon drop its leaves. If this occurs, remember to reduce watering until the leaves return, or root rot may ensue. Some recommend misting in dry weather. Some recommend daily misting, but do not mist while in bloom as this causes the flowers to rot. Placing the Serissa on a moisture tray is another option.


Every 10-14 days during growth, every 4-6 weeks in winter, using liquid bonsai food or half-strength plant food. Likes slightly acid soil condiditions, so the occasional application of Miracid is appreciated.


Every 2-3 years in spring. The newly pruned roots will emit a wretched odor! Prune roots moderately, and use basic bonsai soil.


When in bloom, remove fading flowers to encourage further flower production. Prune as needed; the Serissa is a fast grower and may need radical or repeated pruning to maintain its shape. Will bud back on old wood; in fact, some books recommend occasionally pruning back beyond old growth to help the plant maintain its shape. Wire during the growing period. Serissa will grow air roots and is often used in exposed root or root over rock styles. Eliminate unwanted suckers extending from the base. Suitable for all styles except formal upright and broom. Suitable for extra small to medium sizes.


Cuttings root quite easily. Lesniewicz recommends using 4 inch cuttings in a glass of water from early summer on. I've had success spring-fall planting directly into a rooting medium and watering with Superthrive. The Samsons recommend bottom heat; I haven't found this necessary, but it would probably induce rooting faster.

Pests etc.:

Red spider mite, scale, wooly aphids (diediedie!!!), mildew. Pests are usually not as much of a problem as a sudden change in conditions such as light, temperature etc.

OK, here goes. This is not the end all and be all, but a few suggestions. I hope that other who are more knowledgable that I will chime in:

Serrisa is definately a warm weather plant, probably shouldn't expose it to temperatures much below 50 degrees. It will take a good deal of watre during the summer, but needs less in winter months.

It should be repotted every couple of years, usually in early Spring. It is a very fast grower and takes pruning well. It also root remarkably easily. Make sure to stick your cuttings in some soil after pruning, they will usually take without too much effort.

For pruning, you should trim growth back to one or two pair of leaves. This will help keep a nice compact shape and will increase ramification (twiginess). As for style, most likely an informal upright or slant style, depending on the trunk's movement.

You should think about feeding it a balanced fertilizer, every two weeks during growing season and once a month in the winter.

Serrisas are considered fairly difficult to grow, partly because of their needs for a warm climate and partly because they are fussy and, occassionally, will respond to minor changes in environment by dropping all their leaves.

In my experience, they have not been terribly difficult to grow and maintain, but I am in zone 10, so things tend to grow here pretty easily. The flowers are beautiful and we have them most of the year here.

Serrisas will make wonderful bonsai, but they do take attention.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.

I hope others will chime in with their expert opinion and advice!

Some species suitable for bonsai:

Serissa crassiramea: Makino serissa - A broad leaved shrub.  It 
        bears white flowers.
Serissa foetida (also called S. japonica): tree of a thousand stars, 
        snow rose, June snow - Many cultivars are available, including 
        single and double flowered varieties.  Emits an unpleasant smell 
        when pruned, hence the name.
Serissa foetida 'Chinese' - small tubular white flowers which 
        bloom only sporadically.  Light green foliage.
Serissa foetida 'Flore Pleno' - double white flowers which are 
        produced throughout the year.  Dark green foliage.
Serissa foetida 'Kyoto' - a very tiny dwarf with single white 
        flowers - rarely grows over a foot high.
Serissa foetida 'Kyoto Variegated' - Just what it says.
Serissa foetida 'Mt. Fuji' - This cultivar has larger leaves and 
        a thicker stem than other Serissas.  It is strongly variegated, 
        with single white flowers.  Variegation changes 
        throughout the year, based on temperature, light and 
        nutrient content.
Serissa foetida 'Pink Mountain' - A slow growing cv. with 
        variegated foliage in winter and single pink flowers.
Serissa foetida 'Pink Princess' - Light pink buds opening to 
        white, tubular flowers.
Serissa foetida rosea 'Ahiro Pink' - single pink flowers, 
        variegated foliage.
Serissa foetida rosea 'Cherry Blossom' - single pink blossoms, 
        variegated foliage.
Serissa foetida rosea 'Pink Swan' - single pink flowers, 
        variegated foliage.
Serissa foetida rosea 'Tancho' - single pink flowers, variegated 
Serissa foetida 'Variegata' -green leaves, with yellow or cream 
        colored margins.
Serissa foetida 'White Swan' - single white flowers, variegated 
        foliage.  Reputedly stronger than the average Serissa, 
        this cv. forms trunks quickly and seems resistant to the 
        normal Serissa fussiness!
Serissa foetida 'Yatsubusa' - Very dwarf cv. with tiny pink 
        flowers and tiny dark green congested foliage.

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Related posts on Serissa:


Date: Fri, 3 Jan 1997 05:59:38 -0500 (EST)
From: Robert Maxwell Harris 

> Serissa foetida (also called S. japonica): tree of a thousand stars, 
>         snow rose

This is the one I have.

> Watering: how much and how frequently, need for moisture trays/
>         misting.

I check to see if the soil is dry, usually looking at the soil surface,
but at times employing the chop-stick method--they are intolerant to
drastic changes in watering.

> Feeding: type of food and feeding schedule, any special 
>         techniques other than use of liquid or timed release 
>         food (greater success with slow release food or foliar 
>         feeding, use of additives such as b vitamins or 
>         Superthrive etc.)

I give is a liquid 20-20-20 about every month or so.

> Temperature: hardiness range, and if any frost/heat/wind protection is 
>         necessary

Well, debate time. Some will tell you it can't go below 60 degrees--they
are wrong. Sunset Bonsai gives a min. temp of 20 deg f. Here in Georgia,
Serissa is planted as a hedge plant and it gets well into the teens. On a
recent trip to a nursery they had various serrias in 5 gal pots outside
where temps had dropped into the low 20s. I take mine inside when they
reach the mid 30s, some people leave them outside all together.

> Light: outdoor and indoors, including success or lack therof of 
>         fluorescent lights.

Likes light. In the periods when it is above 36 degrees it stays outside
in full sun, inside next to a very bright window which faces where it
would be if outside. Many a serissa has died because it was brought
indoors to "protect" it from the "frozen" tundra temps of 55 degrees, only
to die from lack of light.

> Repotting: how often, soil mix recommendations, and if any 
>         special precautions are necessary (lack of salt/lime 
>         tolerance etc.)

Use a light soil--hates heavy, boggy soil where drainage is difficult.

> Styling: pruning and wiring tips etc.

Mine is being trained as an exposed root, but also try wind-swept,
slanting, double truck, triple truck, raft styles, root over rock.

> Propagation: if you've ever sucessfully propagated this species, 
>         be as specific as possible about your method.  (seed 
>         germination is a personal obsession...)

I took a large number of cuttings and stuck them in moist soil and kept
them watered--a number of these survived and developed roots--one of these
is now blooming. Next time, I will dip them in a rooting hormone and make
sure they don't dry out as much, so I should get a better than 4/15
success rate--I should note this was simply an experiment and I wasn't
trying to propagate them. Another user stuck cuttings in a glass of
water--same result--they seem to be easily propagated from
cuttings--Sunset Bonsai says that they should be propagated by using
softwood and hardwood cuttings.

> Pests etc.: Insects, fungus and any other problems, including 
>         problems with leaf burn, sensitivity to moving, dislike of 
>         salt buildup, over/underwatering, bad reactions to 
>         pesticides etc. etc. etc.

Usually reacts badly to moving--leaves will turn yellow and drop, but will
usually recover. Reacts to drastic changes in light, temp or water. Of
these, it reacts to over watering and underwatering the worse. Make sure
this plant is not over watered or under watered--use a chop stick to test
soil. Low light is bad as well, if you do take it inside make sure it gets
enough light, also, make sure the temp. changes are reduced--don't take
inside from a 50 degree environment, a 20 degree change like that will
drive it crazy, and thus lots of leaf drop. 

Never had a problem with any pests, etc.
You may use any or all of my post to your Tree care FAQ and give it out to
anyone who might want it.


Date: Sun, 5 Jan 1997 13:20:34 -0600
From: Bill Parrish 

Hi Sabrina,

Thanks for your continued effort in doing the TOW!!  I have a few comments
about Serrias.

I am not exactly sure which species I have, both produce white flowers while
one is verigated and the other one is not.  Comments apply to both.

>big snip<

>Watering: how much and how frequently, need for moisture trays/
>        misting.

They like water and can stay fairly damp.  One person puts the pots in a
shallow dish with water during the summer

>Feeding: nothing special

>Temperature: don't freeze.  Some say they will go to 32F but I've not tried
that.  They will stand 40's okay.

>Light: Like lots of light.  Will grow in moderate shade but develop long
internodes if so and get "leggy".  In winter I have them under flouesent
light for 12 hours a day.  I have them in part shade in summer-no choice.

>Repotting: Yearly.  I use equal parts sand, turface, pine bark & spag peat

>Styling: pruning needs to be done year round.  Need to be trimmed
frequently (weekly) in summer

 wiring tips etc. can wire them but watch wire because trees grow quickly in
>Propagation: Easy!!  Softwood cuttings, 1 to 4 inches long with bottom two
sets of leaves removed and buried.  No hormone needed.  Have used all kinds
of soil, including sticking them into the garden soil.  Just had one root in
two weeks in a peat:turface mix.  Can see up to 4 to 6 inches of growth in 4

>Pests etc.: Insects, fungus and any other problems, including
>        problems with leaf burn, sensitivity to moving, dislike of
>        salt buildup, over/underwatering, bad reactions to
>        pesticides etc. etc. etc.

have had no major pest problems.  When moved indoors have had some yellowing
and leaf drop.  Have lost cuttings because they were not kept wet.  When
indoors (on shelf in garage with lights) I mist them daily.

>And, of course, any further advice you would like to include, or
>any anecdotes about your experience with this tree!

Trees have had bad rap.  Fairly easy to grow, keep outside when temperatures
are above 40 F and indoors other times.

>"This post may be incorporated into the Tree Care FAQ to be republished
>for general distribution."

Bill Parrish
Bartlesville, OK
Zone 6


From: Brent Walston 
Date: 15 Feb 1996 15:18:53 GMT

I can help you with Serissa, it is Serissa foetida, pronounced fetid-ah 
and named for the terrible smell from cut stems and leaves. It is tender 
and cold hardy only to about 25 degrees, but is better kept indoors or in 
greenhouse above 35 degrees at night. It is a heavy feeder and requires 
bright light and acid soil conditions. It withstands heavy pruning, 
producing new bud breaks when cut into old wood.

There are five cultivars of which I am aware in this country: S.f. 
'Floreplena', the double white flowered one, S.f.rosea 'Cherry Blossom', 
with single pink flowers and variegated foliage, S.f. 'White Swan', a 
single white flowered variegated foliage one, S.f. 'Mt Fuji' a strongly 
variegated single whited flowered snowrose with larger leaves and 
stronger stem than the others, and S.f. 'Kyoto', the single flowered 
dwarf that has tiny leaves and beautiful trunk when it achieves some age 
and size although it will never be very large, maybe a foot tall.

All Serissa are slow to achieve any size trunk and should be grown as 
rapidly as possible in ever increasing pot sizes to get substantial 
plants, they also make nice small bonsai. OK for indoor bonsai, but 
require bright light as directly in an east window or under grow lights.
Usually multitrunked, but look better when trained to 1,2 or 3 trunks. 
Prune hard to keep them from getting leggy.

Evergreen Gardenworks


Date: Thu, 16 Jan 1997 11:08:53 -0600
From: "Matthew L. Ward" 

Sabrina, more info for FAQ.

According to Brent Walston , the Serissa
culivar "White Swan" is the strongest. He posted lots of good info, and I
think I saved the post. Yes, here it is:


=>Date: Mon, 4 Nov 1996 18:18:02 -0800
=>From: Brent Walston 

=>I can confirm your experiences with Serissa, I keep mine just above freezing
=>(at night) in the winter. With this treatment they do not defoliate. They
=>seem not to suffer in the least.
=>I have had several plants that for some reason or other never found their
=>way to the greenhouse. These have taken temperatures as low as 18F briefly
=>overnight. They defoliate and act like deciduous plants and recover in the
=>As long as I am on the subject of Serissa, there are stronger cultivars than
=>the most popular S. foetida 'Flore Pleno' the double white Serissa or Tree
=>of a Thousand Stars, or some such nonesense. This is one of the weakest
=>growing cultivars, but is selected by growers (and customers) because it is
=>so floriforous. If you want a really strong cultivar that will produce
=>superior trunks in a much shorter period of time use S. f. 'White Swan'.
=>This is a variegated cultivar which is very strong growing and seemingly
=>immune to the traditional 'Serissa Problems'.