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What Is Osmanthus Delavayi?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Cartwright
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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Osmanthus delavayi is a large broadleaf evergreen shrub in the Oleaceae family. A native of China, it was introduced into France in the late 1800s by Abbe Jean Marie Delavay, from which it takes its common name, the Delavay tea olive. Another common name for the species is sweet olive. In spring it is covered with small, very fragrant flowers.

The genus name, "Osmanthus" means "fragrant flowers." This plant, and close relatives, have been cultivated in China and Japan for centuries because of their sweet smell in spring. They were often planted in temple courtyards. Left to mature naturally it is a broad shrub but it takes shearing well and can be easily shaped into a hedge or landscape specimen.

Most Osmanthus delavayi are wider than they are tall. They can eventually reach 20 feet (about 6 m) tall but grow very slowly. Many plants take at least ten years to reach dimensions of 5 feet (about 1.5 m) tall by 7 feet (about 2.13 m) wide. Those grown in gardens or landscapes often are kept at no more than 10 feet (about 3 m) tall by yearly pruning.

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The leaves are small and oval-shaped with dark green tops and lighter, speckled, undersides. Each leaf is only 0.5 to 1 inch (about 1.25 to 1.5 cm) long. The leaves have a pronounced central crease and slightly toothed edges. Small leaves allow it to take shearing well, making it a good candidate for use in topiary. Flowers bloom on branches that grew the previous season, so pruning should be done after blooming is over but before the next year's buds set.

Osmanthus delavayi flowers for several weeks in late winter or early spring. Small, tube-like flowers set in clusters that cover the plant with white. The scent is often compared to jasmine, which is a close relative of this shrub. Planting it near walkways or patios is often recommended so that the fragrance is easy to enjoy. The flowers are followed by blue, olive shaped drupes.

A fairly hardy plant, Osmanthus delavayi may need protection from wind in the coldest areas. The plant usually does well when planted in full sun to partial shade. It requires well-drained soil but does well in both acidic and alkaline soils. Osmanthus delavayi usually grows and flowers best where it receives regular, moderate watering, but established plants often have some drought tolerance.

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