There are over 70 species of boxwood around the world, but only two have chiefly been used for the creation of small tools and art objects throughout history. Buxus sempervirens- the common or European box and Buxus microphylla- the little leaf box. Sempervirens naturally enough means evergreen which may give you a clue to this bush's tenacity. It grows in hot, dry climates of western and southern Europe, over to pick up a small bit of land in England, then down to Morocco and westward through the Mideterranean to finish the circle in Turkey. Microphylla grows in Asia, with varieties native to parts of China, Japan, and Korea. In these climates, the box grows slowly; barely gaining an inch in diameter over 40 or 50 years. It is this density that allows box to be durable and take on detail and high polish.
To name a few of its uses in the West, I can think of slide rules, recorders, carpenter's planes, chess pieces, tuning pegs on stringed instruments and bobbins for lacemaking. Mallets and beaters for lead working and rulers for measuring. The Eastern box has been used for hanko, shogi pieces, abacus beads, and combs...
...and of course figural carvings along the lines of netsuke!
As my skills develop and I'm demanding better material to work with, I've become choosier about the boxwood I use. Most box on the market now, to my knowledge, comes from England, the Pyrenees, Turkey and East Asia. Each has its own characteristics of color, density, oilyness, dryness and ability to take a polish. It's not the cheapest wood out there, but it certainly is one of the best.
Something to keep in mind the next time you glance at that neglected box hedge in the corner of a suburban yard.