Star anise plant: Subtropical star spices

Anise has so many useful properties in terms of pest control, medicine, and the star anise plant is beautiful too. So, if you enjoy growing plants that have multiple uses in different areas, this may be for you.

We are talking specifically about Illicium verum and not other poisonous star anise plants. Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum) and swamp star anise (Illicium parviflorum) have the same common name, but are highly toxic. So remember that we are talking about Illicium verum, which does not have white flowers.

A great tree to get going in your tree guild or as an addition to a garden bed or greenhouse, the star anise plant is one that gardeners will embrace in the long run. Like many other trees, Chinese star anise takes several years to bear fruit and develop these beautiful seeds that people use in cooking, medicine, and household products.

When it is produced, you can use the fruit to make a highly fragrant oil that is good for cooking, making homemade pesticides, and incorporating it into personal care products. Now let's talk about how to grow and care for star anise!

Good products on Amazon for growing star anise:

Brief instructions for care

The star anise plant produces eight-pointed, star-shaped pods. Source: geishaboy500

Common name (s) Star anise, Chinese star anise, badian, eight-horned anise
Scientific name Illicium verum
Days to harvest At least 2000 days
Bright Apple sun / partial shade to full sun
water ~ 1 inch per week; less in winter
floor Rich, loamy, well-drained, slightly acidic
fertilizer Compost, slow release full spectrum
Pests None
Diseases Alternaria rot, downy mildew

Everything about star anise tree

Japanese star aniseAvoid Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum) as it is poisonous. Source: harum.koh

Star anise (Illicium verum) is commonly known as Chinese anise, eight-horned anise, or badian. This medium-sized evergreen tree is native to Vietnam and China. It is called star anise because the red-brown fruit capsules (often incorrectly called seeds) resemble an 8-pointed star.

Chinese star anise is a tropical evergreen tree with large, glossy green leaves and pink to red flowers that bloom for the sixth year or so of growth. The flowers are about 1.5 inches wide and consist of several whirling petals. After the flowers fall off, what remains is a fruit bowl that has eight horns, each of which contains fruit. As it matures, it grows up to 5 meters tall. This is what sets it apart from other poisonous aniseed plants. Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum) and swamp star anise (Illicium parviflorum) are both significantly different from the non-toxic tree we're discussing here.

Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum) is a similar tree that does not have the same pod shape as Chinese star anise and the white flowers are arranged differently. Bog star anise (Illicium parviflorum) also has white flowers and is much smaller than the tree discussed here. If you are looking to buy a star anise tree (its sign or label should say Illicium verum), make sure that the tree you find is not a similar tree.

A large pharmaceutical company used to source star anise fruit for a popular flu drug. In doing so, they consumed almost 90% of the world's harvest. They've since switched to a source of bacteria that contains the same compound, but the star-shaped fruit is still used in mouthwashes, toothpaste, and personal care products today.


You can start growing star anise from seeds. However, for those who are not that familiar with growing a star anise plant outdoors, it is easier to find this tropical evergreen tree in a nursery. Once you have an established tree, you can plant seeds from your star anise crop.

When choosing a plant for Illicium verum (star anise), make sure it is in the shade. Do not plant until the danger of frost has passed in spring. Make sure the tree is not exposed to direct strong dry winds and too much sunlight. Also, think about drainage, as star anise appreciates drying out between waterings. You can also try growing star anise in a container. This is especially important in places where winters can get bitterly cold. Make sure the container is large enough and the drainage holes are large enough to dry out the soil between regular waterings.


Star anise leavesThe leaves of the star anise are thick and shiny. Source: David Stan

Before you grow star anise, consider the basics. Let's discuss what you need to know to get started growing star anise.

Sun and temperature

To grow a star anise plant outdoors, make sure it gets shady shade in the afternoon. Full sun to partial shade in the morning is ok. In the wild, star anise lives under the upper canopy of leaves in subtropical climates. Plant it in too sunny a spot and find that it doesn't grow as well. Partial sun is a good rule of thumb here.

Star anise trees grow best in the southern United States in zones 7 through 9. They need hot summers and very mild winters to survive. You need extra protection in zones 7 and 8, where the temperature drops quickly in winter. If the temperature suddenly drops, wrap your Chinese anise tree growing in the ground with a tree wrap. If it's in a container, take the container inside or put it in a greenhouse with stable temperatures. You won't have any problems in the heat. Just make sure you water as needed.

Water and moisture

Pour the bottom around your star anise in the morning when the top two inches have dried out. This applies to containers and ground plantings. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, between waterings. If you grow star anise, give it at least an inch of water per week. Drip irrigation is one way to ensure the water gets straight to the roots. Do not water star anise so heavily in winter, as the soil cannot dry out.


Growing star anise requires a rich, loamy soil type that is well-drained. To prep your container or garden, add a generous amount of aged manure or well-rotten, nutrient-rich compost. Make sure the soil texture is loose and the pH is slightly acidic. Neutral soil is good too. Anything between a pH of 6.0 to 7.5 works well for growing star anise.


The only fertilizer you need is more aged manure or nutrient-rich compost that is spread in the spring. Just add one or a mixture of both to the soil around your tree in a 1 to 2 inch layer. Then pour it in lightly. Don't add it in winter or fall as it will burn the tree.


If you want to continue growing star anise as a shrub, you can cut back the tips in winter. Use sharp scissors to remove no more than 6 inches from each branch. Try not to use electric tools that will make the branches and long leaves look chopped up. Cut off weak branches as soon as they appear. The same applies to diseased branches. Overall, there are no special requirements when pruning star anise. The pods do not require any special care as they are picked when they are not ripe. We'll get to that later. Keep it beautiful and you will see why people plant these trees for their great decorative value.


There are two ways to propagate and grow star anise from an existing plant. The first is by cuttings. With a sharp knife, remove a 10 cm section of branch and plant it in a soil mixture of perlite and sand or peat humus. Wait for it to take root and keep it healthy until next spring when it is ready to be planted.

The second method of propagation is through star anise seeds. Once you've harvested and processed the pods, remove the seeds. Test them out by placing them in water. Those who sink are viable. Then plant them in a potting mix at a depth of ½ inch. One per pot is best. Keep the soil moist and they will sprout in 4 to 8 weeks. The seeds that have not sunk should be discarded.

Harvest and storage

Star aniseStar anise has a nice licorice-like taste. Source: Anne Wörner

If you grow star anise, you are likely doing it to make star anise tea or star anise oil. But if you've ever tried star anise, you know harvesting is the best!


As soon as the pods appear in their round shape, remove them one by one with secateurs and dry them in the sun. When they're properly sun-dried and done, they'll have changed from their more rounded shape to anise stars. This is where they owe their reputation for the “eight horns”: from their star-shaped pod. Anise stars also change from green to reddish-brown. The pods open and the fruits are used to flavor dishes when they are ripe enough. To test this, take out a seed and pinch it. If you can't smell that distinctive scent of black liquorice, you're not done yet. Repeat the test on the following days. When your nose smells black liquorice, it's time!


The flavor components of star anise are of paramount importance in Chinese cuisine. If you've ever tried star anise you will know what I mean. This Chinese spice is used there, in many international kitchens and in all of Asian cuisine to flavor dishes. And in winter, anise is a great addition to mulled wine. How do you store the seeds when they come out of the pod? First of all, make sure you have airtight containers no matter what state you are storing them in. If you've chosen to leave the seeds in the pod, you'll have star anise in your Asian cuisine for up to two years. Grind the seeds and use them in dishes or for their pest repellent properties for up to a year. Note that seeds that no longer have their distinctive aroma are of no use. Discard them.


Side view of the star anise plantA side view of the leaves of the star anise plant. Source: David Stan

When you grow star anise, you will find that there really isn't much to worry about when it comes to difficulties. It is a very robust and pest-resistant plant. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Growing problems

Remember to grow star anise in a location that is not too sunny. Too much sun will scorch leaves and stunt growth. Remember that this tree enjoys a subtropical climate in its home region. That means enough moisture to keep feeding it, but not too much. Too much water leads to mold. If you find it scorched or moldy, move your container or transfer the tree to a pot where you can experiment with placement without damaging it further.


Grow star anise and find out that there are no pests to deal with! Pretty great, isn't it? Because of this, a star anise plant is a great plant to grow.


Only two known diseases affect star anise (Illicium verum): Alternaria and downy mildew.

Alternaria rot generally affects star anise in China, but buying from a nursery can bring a diseased tree into your garden. The way tuber blight presents itself is first through a spot with a ring of light on one or more leaves that eventually causes the leaves to collapse. Use a copper fungicide spray once a week to treat tuber rot.

Wrong mildew affects star anise when conditions are too wet for too long. Water your tree from below to prevent this from happening. Neem oil can be used as a preventative spray. Use a copper fungicide the first time you identify the problem. Remove any discolored leaves and twigs that turn yellow as downy mildew progresses.

frequently asked Questions

Illicium verumA young Illicium verum seen from above. Source: David Stan

Q: How long does it take to grow star anise?

A: It can take at least 6 years for star anise to grow from seed fruits.

Q: How does star anise grow in Australia?

A: Very good! It loves subtropical climates that prevail in areas of Australia.

Q: Can you grow star anise in a container?

Answer: yes! Try this first to see which area the tree is best for.

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