When the blooms appear, their heady fragrance is liable to make you swoon.


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, [tea olive is] 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?