November 2010 Plant Profile: Osmanthus fragrans v. aurantiacus

November 14th, 2010 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

In the three years I’ve expected it bite the dust, this plant has survived our winters and we’ve enjoyed the fruity scent from this form of Sweet Olive every autumn. Osmanthus fragrans is a popular shrub/small tree in the warmer regions of the United states (USDA Zone 8 +) and in China, where it is highly revered and its scented autumn blossoms are used to scent and flavor tea. This orange flowered form aurantiacus is not as common in the United States and it’s also not known to be as hardy. So, it was surprising to me that our two large specimens in the Fragrance Garden are thriving. Perhaps the fact that we started with large specimens, are enclosed by other plantings and are against a southwest facing wall contributes to their success OR I’ve even began to wonder if this isn’t aurantiacus, but a selected named cultivar of O. fragrans that is truly hardy and well worth propagating to see if it’s something we can recommend to gardeners in the Puget Sound region. We can grow straight O. fragrans, but it really requires a protected location and benefits from the radiated heat from a nearby building or paved surfaces. Instead, I’ve recommended gardeners seek out a cross known as Osmanthus x fortunei to plant in their gardens. It is very much like O. fragrans, but with broader, darker green leaves and larger, more profuse flowers with the same apricot-like scent. You can read more about it here. For now, just follow your nose during your next visit to CUH and admire this plant in person.

Common Name: Sweet Olive
Location: Fragrance Garden
Family: Oleaceae
Origin: China
Height: 12-20ft.
Spread: 4-6ft.
Bloom Time: Late October throughout November.
Bloom Type/Color: Axillary flowers arranged fairly densely throughout plant.
Straight species is a creamy yellow, but this a rare orange form and supposedly not hardy selection of this species.
Water/Soil: Well drained, moderately moist.

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