Osmanthus is indigenous in North America, eastern Asia, Hawaii and New Caledonia, and comprises 15 species, some of which are fairly winter-hardy in this part of the world. This is an evergreen, woody-stemmed, dioecious shrub or tree, i.e., the male and female flowers do not grow on the same plant. It has whorls of undivided, oval to lanceolate leaves with a serrated or smooth-edged, usually thickened margin, and clusters or spikes of small, usually bell-shaped, white, cream or sometimes yellow, often fragrant flowers growing in the leaf axilla.

O. x burkwoodii (syn. X Osmarea burkwoodii) is a slow-growing shrub, 1-2 m tall, which flowers in April-May. It has short-stemmed, leathery, oval leaves up to 5 cm long, with a serrated margin, and fragrant clusters of white flowers.

O. decorus is a branching shrub 4-5  m tall which flowers in April-May, and has dark green, lanceolate-oval, smooth-edged leaves, 5-15 cm long, fragrant, white flowers and countless oval purple fruits. O. hcterophyllus is a compact, round shrub, 2-3 m tall, which flowers from September-November. It has thick, leathery, oval, holly-like leaves up to 5 cm long, often with a spiny margin, fragrant, creamy-white clusters of flowers and purple fruits (rarely); there are several cultivars with variegated leaves; they require semi-shade. This shrub requires a sunny spot in any fertile soil that is not too dry. Remove ugly branches and thin out as necessary. Propagate from summer cuttings in the greenhouse with a growth medium.

The most popular kind is Osmanthus delavayi, a densely branched evergreen, eventually 6 ft. high and more through, with small rounded leaves and sweetly scented white flowers in April—May. Though it usually flowers freely the tubular flowers are too small to make much display and it is for its perfume and as a foliage shrub that it is most admired.

Osmanthus ilicifolius (also known as heterophyllus and aquifolium) is also a fine foliage shrub, but very different in appearance. It grows slowly to 10 ft. or more, could easily be mistaken for a holly and has small white scented flowers in October. It is best planted in one of its variegated forms, such as aureomarginatus, leaves edged with yellow, and variegatus, leaves edged with white.

All kinds thrive in any reasonably fertile soil, in sun or partial shade, but O. delavayi is a little tender and may need to be grown against a sunny sheltered wall in cold districts. Both species can be pruned in spring, O. delavayi immediately after flowering.

Osmanthus delavayi

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