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Plants from the Ground Up

Osmanthus fragrans SWEET OLIVE

Osmanthus fragrans

The very best part of Autumn for me is the intoxicating scent of Osmanthus fragrans known as Sweet Olive. I have just been in our greenhouses breathing in the heavenly apricot-like smell of these tiny flowers. If you did not know, you would never guess that these discreet usually white, pale-yellow or sometimes orange flowers could possibly create such an aroma! Osmanthus is called Sweet Olive because it has dark blue fruits (drupes) which bear a slight resemblance to the fruit of Olive trees. Native to Asia from the Himalayas to southern China, Japan and even as far south as Cambodia and Thailand. Osmanthus has long been a part of Asian culture; the flowers are used to add fragrance and flavor to tea and is also used to flavor sweet cakes in China. Osmanthus wine is also used a traditional toast for welcoming homecoming family members. Sweet Olive has been used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine. There is a story in Chinese folklore that says Osmanthus grows on the moon and that Wu Gang has to endlessly cut this regrowing plant as divine punishment. In China, “Wu Gang cutting the tree” describes endless toil.

Osmanthus get is name for the Greek osme meaning fragrant and anthos meaning flower. Growing 10-15′ high, Sweet Olive can be shaped as a shrub or as a small tree, its dark-green holly-like foliage grows in an opposite arrangement on light grey-brown stems (it can easily be distinguished from Holly as true Holly has an alternate leaf arrangement). Though only hardy to zone 8 (other species can be somewhat hardier), Sweet Olive can be grown as a houseplant or sun room specimen and is absolutely worth the effort! Osmanthus can tolerate full sun, but benefits from some afternoon shade especially in hotter climates. These shrubs are tolerant of many soil types and can even be grown in heavy clay. Other types of Osmanthus come in striking variety, ‘Goshiki’ is a lovely cultivar splashed with white, while ‘Ogon’ has glowing yellow foliage. Sweet Olive can easily be propagated by semi-hardwood cuttings taken in the fall. 

Osmanthus heterophyllus Goshiki

Osmanthus heterophyllus Goshiki

Osmanthus heterophyllus Ogon

Osmanthus heterophyllus Ogon

For more photos and information, see Osmanthus at the Forestfarm Store.

 

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