Fragrant tea olive tree

Fragrant Tea Olive Tree

Perfume for the Garden

Why Fragrant Tea Olive Trees?

An unforgettable fragrance merges with slow but steady growth, making the Tea Olive Tree a must-have for your garden. And because the Fragrant Tea Olive grows slowly, its dense evergreen growth can be pruned into a hedge or shrub, providing an effective and decorative screen that’s adaptable to your needs.

Plus, its glossy green leaves serve as the perfect backdrop to white blooms that will emerge both late in the fall and early in the spring. And when they do, get ready for the sweet, memorable scent that has made the Tea Olive Tree a favorite amongst landscape designers and gardeners the world over.

Reminiscent of gardenia and jasmine, your Tea Olive will thrill each season as it delivers a unique and memorable fragrance. With a scent so whimsical and wonderful, you’d think the Tea Olive would be a handful when it comes to upkeep.

Why is Better

But the Tea Olive Tree is hassle-free. Simply plant it a sunny spot with soil that isn’t too sandy. This hardy tree will only require the occasional pruning necessary to achieve your required height and shape. And it’s a disease-resistant pick that withstands harsh winter temperatures, even down to 10 degrees.

The best part, though? We’ve planted, grown and shipped our Fragrant Tea Olive Trees with care, so you get an amazing tree in your own homescape. Our Fragrant Tea Olive Tree is delivered to your door with good roots and healthy growth…an experience you won’t get from your local big box store.

Order yours today and let the memories of the coming seasons begin!

Planting & Care

1. Planting: Before planting your Tea Olive in the ground, moisten the roots and set it in the shade for a few days. When you’re ready to plant, place your Fragrant Tea Olive tree in full sun to partial shade, avoiding deep shade (4 to 6 hours of sunlight daily). Although clay, loam and sandy soil can accommodate your tree, try to choose a location with well-draining, slightly acidic soil.

Dig a hole about as deep as the root ball and about twice as wide. Set the tree in the hole, spreading out the roots over the surface of the hole. Fill the hole in with a mixture of the original soil and any additional topsoil required. Eliminate any air pockets that may have formed by tamping down firmly. Water the area until the top 3 inches of soil becomes moist but not soaked.

2. Watering: Water regularly in the first year after planting. Wait until the top 3 inches of soil dry out before watering again. Soon after the first year, your Tea Olive will become drought tolerant and only need water during extended droughts.

3. Fertilizing: Apply a complete fertilizer in early spring such as 10-10-10, preferably one with slow-release nitrogen and follow the directions on the packaging.

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Fragrant Tea Olive

Many of you have happy memories playing near this incredible shrub. The Fragrant Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans) bears deliciously scented, tiny white flower clusters from fall through early spring.

This is a very popular, upright evergreen shrub also known as the Sweet Olive or Fragrant Olive. The heavenly scent is described as rich and sweetly fruity like Apricot or Peach. Others think it smells like a gorgeous cross between Gardenia and Jasmine. You can easily smell the dainty flowers blooming on a Fragrant Tea Olive in every part of your yard.

It’s absolutely covered in blooms in early spring, and sporadically through summer with another flush of blooms in fall. Depending on where you live, the Fragrant Tea Olive can provide color and scent at a time when other plants aren’t blooming.

This wonderful shrub is the Lilac’s answer for the warmer Zones It’s incredibly versatile and can be grown in either full sun or in partial shade.

It’s native to a wide area of Asia, where it has been a popular landscape plant for thousands of years. Today, modern homeowners around the world show an appreciation for its beauty and fragrance.

Like many Asian plants, the Fragrant Tea Olive displays a graceful form. With branches that are held strongly erect, the upright growth habit of this shrub easily brings a visual energy to your landscape.

With dark green, finely toothed, vibrantly glossy evergreen leaves held densely from the base to the top, the Fragrant Tea Olive makes a wonderful screening plant or soft hedge. It can be used in many ways, including pruned as a magnificent small tree or as a standalone specimen.

It gets its name from the tiny black fruit that you will hardly notice. The fruit is inedible, and this is a shrub grown for it’s wonderful fragrant flowers. The shiny evergreen foliage is a big bonus!

People dry the edible flowers to include in green and black tea mixes. In addition, the flowers are used in Sweet Cakes, dumplings, soups and liquors. The flowers are also found in traditional Chinese medicine where it has been used to treat assorted ailments.

Whether you order it for its beauty or its fragrance, you will be glad you bought it and wonder why you didn’t order more. That heavenly smell really takes you back. Don’t miss this one – order today!

How to Use Fragrant Tea Olive in the Landscape

Grown as a shrub, or limbed up over time into either a multi-trunked or single trunked tree, you’ll love exploring the ways Fragrant Tea Olive can decorate your landscape. A versatile plant, this selection has many applications in the landscape.

Popular as a useful screen or hedge plant, the Fragrant Tea Olive takes to pruning very well. Plant as close as 4 to 5 feet on center to allow this slow to moderate growing plant to fill in quickly. Use a staggered double row with a zig-zagged planting pattern to reach coverage even faster.

This is the perfect plant for that location that needs a hedge but is in some shade. Add this fragrant flowering shrub to existing windbreaks or create a new “living fence”. We advise buying the largest container size in stock to shortcut the process.

Use this fragrant evergreen to create the walls of a special garden room. It would be an incredible addition to a Zen, Asian or Meditation Garden. Why not gift yourself a private retreat by carving out some space in your back yard?

You’d be amazed at how much larger your yard will look when you introduce screening as a design element. If you can’t see everything all at once, the yard looks twice as large!

A hedge of Fragrant Tea Olive looks crisp and clean. With its vertical lines, it makes a wonderful contrasting backdrop for plants with rounded or even weeping habits.

If you want a very special accent tree, select the strongest trunks and remove all the rest. Choose 1, 3, 4, or 5 for different looks. Limb up the lowest horizontal branches. Over time, you can train Fragrant Tea Olive into a special specimen accent tree. Anchor the corner of your foundation – or use to accent a patio area. It will thrive in either full sun or part shade.

You can even grow this plant in a large container. Keep it as a houseplant in cold winter zones and bring it out as a seasonal patio plant. You’ll love the wonderful fragrance to a patio area as well as the healthy rich green foliage.

Overwinter your plant indoors in a well-lit protected location. Watch your winter water and be careful not to overwater the plant when inside. The Fragrant Tea Tree can be a large house plant when given plenty of light and a location away from dry heat sources like stoves or heater vents.

Even warm winter gardeners might like to use this plant in gorgeous containers. You can easily keep it pruned for size, and a portable version can be placed in just the right spots to screen your home from prying eyes. Use several in matching containers for a lush, stylish and sophisticated patio decoration.

Many areas list the Fragrant Tea Olive on their firewise plant lists for firescaping.

#ProPlantTips for Care

It’s such a beautiful and wonderfully scented shrub that you’d think it would be a diva in the garden, but it’s not. This is an easy care plant that asks for well-drained soil and a yearly application of fertilizer for acidic plants in spring. It easily tolerates of a wide range of soil types – including clay – as long as the drainage is good. Don’t plant this too deeply.

In the hotter areas, give the Fragrant Tea Olive protection from the hot afternoon sun and a thick 3 to 4 inch layer of mulch over the root zone. In Zone 7, don’t plant this in open, windy areas to reduce the chance of winter burn.

It is disease-resistant and becomes drought tolerant after the first season. For best results, allow soil to dry out a bit between deep, saturating watering sessions to encourage root growth. Do keep an eye on new plants. Increase water during periods of exceptionally hot and dry temperatures.

Fragrant Tea Olive will grow to a tall shrub over time. If you’d like to keep the size in check, prune 1/3 off the top every few years. Wait until after the early spring blooms are finished.

This is a wonderful plant that easily perfumes your landscape. Once you smell those fabulous flowers, we know you’ll find a spot for it somewhere outside or even in your home as a houseplant.

Order now, as we regularly sell out of inventory of this popular shrub.


This versatile group of easy-to-grow, broad-leafed evergreens combines handsome foliage with fragrantthough inconspicuousflowers (white, in most cases). Most are large shrubs that can eventually reach the size of a small tree. Use them as tall screens, hedges, or foundation plantings. They tolerate many soils (including heavy clay), accept heavy pruning, and do well with little moisture or regular garden watering. Some- what resistant to damage by browsing deer.


osmanthus americanus

  • Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9.
  • Native to Mexico, and from North Carolina to Florida and Mississippi.
  • Grows rather slowly to 15 25 feet tall and 1520 feet wide, though it may eventually become much larger.
  • Neat, upright, oval form.
  • Handsome, leathery, shiny olive-green foliage: smooth-margined leaves to 7 inches long, 212 inches wide.
  • Creamy flowers in spring; dark blue, 12 inches fruit in early fall.
  • Very cold hardy.
  • Tolerates wet soil.

osmanthus xburkwoodii

  • Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8.
  • Hybrid between Osmanthus delavayi and Osmanthus decorus.
  • Slow growing to 610 feet tall, 812 feet wide.
  • Densely clothed in 1- to 2 inches., glossy, bright green, tooth-edged leaves.
  • Spring bloom.
  • Useful as a hedge.

delavay osmanthus

osmanthus delavayi

  • Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9.
  • From China.
  • Slow-growing, graceful plant with arching branches; reaches 46 feet tall, 68 feet wide.
  • Dark green, oval, tooth-edged leaves to 1 inches long.
  • Blooms profusely in spring, bearing clusters of four to eight blossoms (blooms are 12 inches widethe largest of any osmanthus).
  • Attractive all year.
  • Good choice for foundation plantings, massing.
  • Handsome on retaining walls where branches can hang down.
  • Does best in partial shade.

fortune’s osmanthus

osmanthus xfortunei

  • Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9.
  • Hybrid between Osmanthus heterophyllus and Osmanthus fragrans.
  • Slow, dense growth to an eventual 1520 feet tall, 68 feet wide; usually seen at about 6 feet tall.
  • Oval, 4 inches-long leaves resemble those of holly (Ilex).
  • Extremely fragrant flowers in autumn.
  • Selection ‘San Jose’ bears flowers ranging in color from cream to orange.
  • Fruitlandii is a slightly more cold hardy, compact form with cream-colored flowers.

sweet olive, tea olive

osmanthus fragrans

  • Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11.
  • Native to China, Japan, Himalayas.
  • Long a favorite of Southern gardeners.
  • Broad, dense, compact.
  • Grows at a moderate rate to 15ft.
  • tall, 810 feet wide (though older plants may reach 30 feet tall, 1215 feet wide).
  • Oval, glossy, medium green leaves to 4 inches long, toothed or smooth edged.
  • Flowers are powerfully fragrant, with a scent like that of ripe apricots.
  • Bloom is heaviest in spring, but plants flower sporadically throughout year.
  • Can be pruned to upright growth where space is limited; can be trained as a small tree, hedge, screen, background, espalier, or container plant.
  • Pinch out growing tips of young plants to induce bushiness.
  • Give afternoon shade.
  • Butter Yellow produces lots of butter-yellow flowers.
  • Fudingzhu is an outstanding form, more cold hardy and not as large as the species, and it blooms for a much longer time with large, showy clusters of blooms.
  • Orange Supreme is a well-shaped plant with bright orange blossoms.
  • Osmanthus f.
  • aurantiacus has narrower, less glossy leaves than the species; its crop of wonder-fully fragrant orange flowers is concentrated in early fall.

holly osmanthus

osmanthus heterophyllus

  • Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9.
  • From Japan.
  • Grows to 810 feet (possibly 20 feet.) tall and slightly wider, with 212 inches., spiny-edged, glossy, green leaves.
  • Resembles English holly (Ilex aquifolium), but leaves are opposite one another on stems rather than alternate.
  • Fragrant white flowers in late fall and winter are followed by berrylike, blue-black fruit.
  • Useful as hedge.


  • Erect growth to 312 feet tall, 5 feet wide.
  • New leaves have pinkish orange markings; in mature foliage, the variegations are creamy yellow (on a deep green background).
  • Few flowers.


  • Dense grower to 810 feet tall and 10 feet wide (may eventually reach 20 feet high), with deep green, very glossy foliage.
  • More cold hardy than the species.
  • Probably the most popular selection.


  • Same growth habit as species.
  • Leaves are dark purple when new, maturing to purple-toned deep green.


  • Slow growing to 5 feet tall and wide.
  • Small, roundish leaves are lightly spined.


  • Slow growing to an eventual 810 feet tall and wide, with densely set leaves edged in creamy white.
  • Useful for lighting up shady areas.
  • A bit less cold tolerant than the species.

Landscape Plants

  • Broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree, 20-40 ft (6-12 m) high, upright oval to columnar habit, often grown with several main trunks. Leaves opposite or subopposite, simple, oblong-lanceolate to elliptic, 6-10 cm long, tip acuminate, base wedge-shaped (cuneate), margin entire or finely toothed, leathery tough, glossy dark green above, lighter and distinctly veined below; petiole 6-12 mm long. Flowers usually white, waxy, small, 1 cm, the 4-lobed corolla is divided more or less to the base, solitary or few in stalked clusters, very fragrant (apricot-scented). Fruits bluish, 12 mm long.
  • Sun to part shade, best in acidic, well-drained soil. Drought tolerant when established but needs some watering for best performance. Can be grown as a hedge or in a pot. …”a traditional element in southern gardens” (Floridata).
  • Hardy to USDA Zone (7)8 Native to China, Japan and Himalayas. Sweet Osmanthus is the city flower of Guilin, China, and Guilin actually means Forest of Sweet Osmanthus trees.
  • The very fragrant flowers are used as an additive for tea and other beverages in the far east. In addition, in China the flowers are also used to produce osmanthus-scented jam, sweet cakes, dumplings and soups. An extract (alcohol absolute) of gold-orange flowers (O. fragrans var. thunbergii) is very expensive (~U.S. $4000 per kilogram) and accordingly is used in only the most expensive perfumes and flavors (Leffingwell & Associates).
  • A number of cultivars, formas, varieties, etc. (Dirr, 1998), some are difficult to find in commerce:
    • ‘Apricot Gold’ – flowers apricot-cold colored, fragrant.
    • f. aurantiacus (syn. O. aurantiacus) – pale orange flowers bloom in fall, leaves usually entire.
    • ‘Butter Yellow’ – fragrant yellow flowers.
    • ‘Conger Yellow’ – fragrant yellow flowers.
    • ‘Fudingzhu’ (syn. ‘Nanjin’s Beauty’) – abundant, very fragrant, cream-white flowers, reportedly blooms for nine months.
    • ‘Hunter’s Creek’ – large, 20 ft (6 m) shrub with white flowers.
    • var. latifolia – fragrant cream-yellow flowers, summer blooming for several months.
    • ‘Live Oak Gold’ – gold-yellow flowers.
    • ‘Orange Supreme’ – fragrant bright orange flowers.
    • var. semperflorens – reportedly the hardiest (Zone 7), flowers over a long period.
    • var. thunbergii – fragrant yellow flowers.
    • ‘T-Tower’ – small tree with white flowers.
  • fragrans: fragrant, a reference to the flowers.
  • Portland, Oregon: Portland Classical Chinese Garden

Tea Olive

Tea olive is a classic Southern shrub that blooms at various times of the year with tiny but amazingly fragrant flowers.


This long-lived shrub is a favorite of Florida gardeners, who prize it for its tough nature and sweet-smelling flowers. It performs best in North and Central Florida but can also be grown in South Florida if planted in partial shade.

Tea olive is also a versatile plant that can make a great backdrop for other plants. It looks good as a specimen plant, and its glossy, evergreen leaves and dense growth habit make it well suited for screens and hedges.

The plants typically flower at several times throughout the year, with some bloom cycles heavier than others. Flowers of the species type are creamy white, while improved cultivars offer yellow or orange flowers (Osmanthus fragrans ‘Butter Yellow’, O. fragrans ‘Apricot Gold’, and O. fragrans f. aurantiacus).

Planting and Care

Tea olive can be grown in full sun or partial shade, though plants growing in deeper shade may become spindly. The plants prefer a well-drained soil and are fairly drought tolerant once established.

Because of its natural columnar shape, tea olive requires only minimal pruning, though gardeners may choose to prune the plant in order to encourage branching. Plants may grow up to 8 feet wide and reach 4 to 30 feet in height depending on the cultivar, but they can also be pruned into a small tree if space is limited.

Apply a complete fertilizer in early spring, preferably one with slow-release nitrogen.

Tea olive is relatively problem free, though it can sometimes be affected by scale if growing conditions are poor. Disease problems aren’t common but may include bortryosphaeria canker, cercospora leaf spot, or anthracnose.

For more information on tea olive, contact your county Extension office.

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Fragrance Gardens


  • Osmanthus fragrans: Sweet Osmanthus, Tea Olive, Sweet Olive

The Tea Olives Are Blooming!

What’s that fragrance perfuming the garden air? It’s tea olive, the glossy-leaved shrub known by the scientific name Osmanthus fragrans. Commonly, you can call the plant tea olive or sweet olive, as both names nod to the sweet scent emitted by the plant’s tiny white blooms. This species belongs to the genus Osmanthus. Osmanthus species are drought-tolerant, evergreen shrubs that thrive in full sun or partial shade. Their calling card is their deeply fragrant blooms, which appear throughout the year. The flowers appear as tiny white blossoms, but their size belies their big floral perfume.

About Tea Olive

Their biggest bloom happens in the spring and summer, but they also bloom intermittently throughout the year, even in the final days of fall. The New Southern Living Garden Book describes the stats of the evergreen shrub this way, “Long a favorite of Southern gardeners, broad, dense, compact. Grows at a moderate rate to 15 feet tall and 8-10 feet wide, though older plants may reach 30 feet tall and 12-15 feet wide.” The plants’ foliage is very attractive, with glossy, medium-to-deep green leaves that grow to around 4 inches long. They can be toothed or have rounded, smooth edges. The New Southern Living Garden Book notes the plants’ intense perfume, “Flowers are powerfully fragrant, with a scent like that of ripe apricots. Bloom is heaviest in spring, but plants flower sporadically throughout the year.”

Growing Tea Olives

This is a very versatile planting and can thrive even with extreme pruning. It can be shaped to fit in small spaces or can be allowed to grow big and sprawling where there is a lot of empty space. It can also take many shapes and can be trained into nearly every planting form you can imagine: shrub, tree, hedge, screen or privacy planting, espalier—even a container plant. In the way of garden responsibilities, there’s not much that this plant can’t take on. They grow best in full sun with some afternoon shade.

Tea Olive Selections

According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, ” ‘Butter Yellow’ produces lots of butter-yellow flowers. ‘Fudingzhu’ is an outstanding form, more cold hardy and not as large as the species, and it blooms for a much longer time with large, showy clusters of blooms. ‘Orange Supreme’ is a well-shaped plant with bright orange blossoms. O. f. aurantiacus has narrower, less glossy leaves than the species; its crop of wonderfully fragrant orange flowers in concentrated in early fall.”

Do you have any tea olives growing in your garden? What’s your favorite fragrant Southern bloomer?

Sweetly fragrant, white flowers of Fortune’s tea olive (Osmanthus x fortunei) in appear October.
Photo by Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Tea olives (Osmanthus species) are some of the most sweetly fragrant plants in Southern gardens. Their scent makes them ideal for planting near windows and outdoor living areas where the fall blooming flowers can be readily enjoyed.

Tea olives grow as dense, evergreen shrubs or small trees. Their leaves resemble holly leaves, explaining another common name, false holly. They can be readily distinguished from hollies by their opposite leaves, hollies having alternate leaves.

Mature Height/Spread

Height varies from 6 to 30 feet tall depending on species and cultivar. Width is similar to height. Smaller leafed cultivars of holly tea olive (Osmanthus heterophyllus), Fortune’s tea olive (O. x fortunei) and Delavay tea olive (O. delavayi) make good hedges and can be maintained as low as 4 feet tall.

Growth Rate

Growth rate of tea olives is slow to moderate, approximately 4 to 12 inches per year. Growth rate is strongly influenced by soil quality and organic matter content, available nutrients, and water availability.

Ornamental Features

Flowers of all tea olive species are intensely fragrant, often being compared to the scent of peaches, orange blossoms, or jasmine. The most common flower color is creamy-white, but depending on cultivar, can vary to include pure white, pale to deep yellow, or orange. While individual flowers are small, the clusters are usually large and numerous enough to be quite showy.

Foliage is dark, leathery, and usually toothed along the edges. Growth habit of most species is dense and upright-oval to round in form.

Landscape Use

The dense growth habit and dark evergreen foliage of tea olives make them excellent choices for hedges, screens, and individual specimen plants.


Most tea olives will grow in sun to medium shade. Some variegated cultivars, such as ‘Goshiki’, may show some leaf discoloration in full sun. Tea olives grow best in fertile, moist, well-drained, acidic soil. They are moderately drought tolerant once established. Tea olives are not salt spray tolerant, with the exception of the native Devilwood (Osmanthus americanus).

Tea olives rarely need pruning since they usually form a pleasing shape on their own. However, they can be pruned either selectively for shape, or small leafed types can be sheared as formal hedges. Prune most tea olives before growth starts in spring, since they flower on current season’s growth. The two spring blooming species – O. delavayi and O. americanus – should be pruned immediately after flowering. Be aware that tea olives that are pruned back severely may take several years to come back into bloom.


Juvenile and adult leaf forms of holly tea olive (Osmanthus heterophyllus).
Photo by Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Tea olives are long-lived and virtually pest free. Occasional disease and insect problems can develop, mainly under stressful conditions.

Botryosphaeria canker is most commonly associated with drought stress. Cercospora leaf spot and anthracnose are occasional problems. Phytophthora and Pythium root rots are associated with poorly drained or excessively wet soil. Soilborne nematodes can also be a problem.

Scales are the main insect pest and can be controlled with sprays of 2% horticultural oil (5 tablespoons oil per gallon of water). Do not apply horticultural oils when the temperature is below 45 °F or above 90 °F, when high humidity prevents drying, or when rainfall is expected within 24 hours. It is best to spray in the early evening.

Species & Cultivars

Holly Tea Olive or False Holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus): Holly tea olives are relatively small compared to other tea olives, growing between 8 and 10 feet tall and slightly narrower in width. Very old plants will occasionally reach 20 feet or more.

Many colored leaves of ‘Goshiki’ holly tea olive (Osmanthus heterophyllus).
Photo by Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Holly tea olives are very dense and with leaves only 1 to 2½ inches long; they are one of the best choices for a formal hedge. Tea olives have both juvenile and adult leaf forms. The juvenile leaves on this species are very spiny and holly-like in appearance. Adult leaves are smooth margined, with a spine only at the tip.

The flowers of this species are less visible than that of others, but are intensely fragrant, blooming between late September to early October to as late as November. Holly tea olives will grow in all regions of South Carolina. There are a number of cultivars.

  • ‘Goshiki’ means “five colors” in Japanese. Young leaves are pinkish, maturing to mottled green, gray-green, gold and cream. This cultivar grows best in part shade.
  • ‘Gulftide’ is a compact, upright form with very spiny, glossy leaves.
  • ‘Ogon’ has golden yellow new leaves that fade to yellow-green. It is slow growing and best grown in part shade.
  • ‘Sasaba’ has uniquely twisted and extremely spiny leaves and grows as an upright pyramid. The texture is interesting and attractive, but the plant should be handled with care.
  • ‘Variegatus’ has striking dark green leaves with creamy white edges. It does not discolor in full sun. ‘Variegatus’ is upright, slow growing and smaller than the species.
  • Rounded foliage of ‘Rotundifolius’ holly tea olive (Osmanthus heterophyllus).
    Photo by Joey Williamson, ©2013 HGIC, Clemson Extension

    ‘Rotundifolius’ has leathery, non-spiny foliage. It has fragrant flowers and is a slow growing dwarf to 4 or 5 feet tall. Seedlings grown from this cultivar have extremely spiny leaf margins.

Fortune’s Tea Olive (Osmanthus x fortunei): This tea olive is a hybrid between O. heterophyllus and O. fragrans. It is intermediate between those species in most traits. Fortune’s tea olive grows 15 to 20 feet tall, with similar width. It has dense growth in an oval-rounded form. White, highly fragrant flowers last for several weeks from October to November. Fortune’s tea olive will grow in all regions of South Carolina.

  • ‘Fruitlandii’ flowers are pale cream-yellow and is more compact and cold hardy than O. x fortunei.
  • ‘San Jose’ leaves are somewhat longer and narrower than the species, with more and longer spines.

Fragrant Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans): This is the most fragrant species of a group known as a whole for their superb scent. Fragrant tea olives can grow as tall as 20 to 30 feet near the coast, although they are usually smaller, particularly in the Piedmont. Height is more often in the 10 to 12 foot range with an 8-foot width. Plants are upright when young, but can spread into a small vase-shaped tree at maturity.

Fragrant tea olives will grow throughout South Carolina, but can suffer cold damage in the upper Piedmont or Mountains if temperatures in a very cold winter approach 0 °F or if during a warm winter the temperature drops rapidly to 20 °F.

Orange flowers of Osmanthus fragrans f. aurantiacus.
Photo by Joey Williamson, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Fragrant tea olive has an exceptionally long bloom period, often for 2 months during the fall, with scattered blooming through winter and into the spring. The flowers are showy and held in clusters along the stems. The species has small white flowers, but there are several cultivars, mostly chosen for differing flower color. While some are still uncommon, they are well worth the search.

  • O. fragrans f. aurantiacus has light to bright orange abundant flowers in fall. Although the flowers last for only one to two weeks, this form is exceptionally heavy blooming. It is more cold hardy than the species, tolerating temperatures down to -8 °F with little damage.
  • ‘Conger Yellow’ has butter-yellow flowers.
  • ‘Fudingzhu’ is long flowering, with exceptionally abundant, very fragrant creamy-white flowers.
  • O. f. var. thunbergii is similar to O. f. f. aurantiacus, but with light yellow flowers.

Delavay Tea Olive (Osmanthus delavayi): This is one of the few spring-flowering tea olives, blooming in April. Flowers are showy, profuse, white, and fragrant. It grows into an arching mound 6 to 10 feet tall by 6 to 10 feet wide, but can easily be kept smaller. The leaves are smaller than those of other tea olives, only 1 inch long by ½ inch wide. They are shiny, toothed, and dark green. Delavay tea olive will grow throughout South Carolina.

Devilwood (Osmanthus americanus) foliage.
Photo by Joey Williamson, ©2012 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Devilwood (Osmanthus americanus): This is the only native tea olive, growing in the wild along swamp margins and streams in the Coastal Plain. It grows into a small, upright evergreen tree, 20 to 25 feet tall. Leaves are shiny, olive green, elongated, 2 to 4½ inches long, with a smooth edge. Plants accept pruning well and can be maintained as a hedge if desired.

The flowers of devilwood are relatively small compared to other tea olives, but open very early in spring and have the typical tea olive sweet fragrance.

Devilwood will grow throughout South Carolina. It grows in either sun or part shade. Devilwood prefers moist, well-drained, acidic soil, but is adaptable to various soil types, tolerates extended flooding, and is also tolerant of salt spray.

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