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What is Phillyrea?

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  • Written By: Anna Harrison
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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Phillyrea is a family of just two species of evergreen shrubs or small trees that belong to the olive family. These fragrant, flowering plants, P. latifolia and P. angustifolia, are native to New Zealand, Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the Mediterranean area. They closely resemble the olive tree, with leaves that grow opposite each other on the branches and clusters of white flowers in spring.

Phillyrea latifolia is commonly known as mock privet or green olive tree. It has broad, glossy dark green leaves and tiny white flowers in summer. This slow growing tree can grow quite tall, reaching as much as 26 feet (8 m) and has sprawling branches when mature. It is frequently kept pruned to a smaller size, though, and used as a hedge or foundation plant.

Phillyrea angustifolia is often referred to as false olive, and is smaller than P. latifolia, growing to just 8 feet tall (2.4 m). The narrow leaves of these large shrubs have a whitish tinge in spring, but turn a dark green as they mature. Clusters of very small, white flowers appear in summer, with black, olive-like fruit to follow in fall.

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Both types of Phillyrea prefer a light and sandy, alkaline soil, but are tolerant of heavy clay soil as well. They will grow in areas with partial sunlight, but they will thrive best in full sun. These shrubs are drought tolerant and require little water after they have become established. While Phillyrea trees are fairly hardy once established in their permanent location, they will not survive extreme cold. A thick mulch should be applied in late fall to help them survive cold temperatures.

They can be propagated easily from fresh seed and should be sown in late fall or early winter. After sprouting, the seedlings should be kept watered and in a sunny window until spring. The seedlings should remain in pots and overwintered indoors for the first year. They will also root from semi-hardwood cuttings, although frequent misting is required. In addition, Phillyrea are slow growing, and may take several months to form roots, so patience is required to propagate them.

These evergreen trees can be paired with many other small trees and shrubs to make an interesting, eye catching landscape. Magnolia, holly trees, ornamental cherry, and arbutus are just a few that complement them well, and create a contrasting color palette. They can be under planted with evergreen perennials, such as ajuga, creeping phlox, or Irish moss, to add green color to otherwise dreary winter scenery.

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