Sweet olive trees (Osmanthus fragrans) are evergreen shrubs that grow all over East Asia, particularly in Japan, China and the Himalayas. The small trees are characterized by their upright growth and deep green foliage. They bear little clusters of tube-shaped white flowers and a blackish-blue fruit. Sweet olive trees are fragrant, with a scent similar to that of apricots .
Sweet olive trees can grow to between 6 and 8 feet wide and up to 20 feet tall, although in the garden they usually reach a height of only 6 to 10 feet. The leaves of the tree are glossy and dark green, and can have either smooth or fine-toothed edges (in some cases, both). During the spring, fall and winter, white flowers appear on the shrub. The blossoms are tiny and unassuming, but have a strong and pleasant fragrance.
Sweet olive trees thrive in good soil, but are usually adaptable except in cases of extremely low-quality sandy soil. They can be pruned to keep their size down and to promote branching, but pruning is not necessary. The trees require sun with only a minimum amount of shade, and they thrive on either average or high levels of moisture.
Sweet olive trees are usually planted for ornamental purposes and for their sweet fragrance. They are often used in outdoor seating areas in garden, or planted between windows. A row of these trees can also serve as a screen or hedge.
There are various common names for sweet olive trees, including Fragrance Olive, Tea Olive and (in Japanese) Kinmokusei.
In Taiwan and China, the sweet olive tree has traditionally been a symbol of romance and love. Taiwanese brides planted sweet olive trees in pots and delivered them to their new families. InTaiwanese culture, the trees symbolize fidelity, true love, peace and fertility.
More than 20 different cultivars and types of the sweet olive tree are in existence. These varieties include Orange Supreme, Silver-White, Butter Yellow, Apricot-Gold and Red. Their flowers range between white, yellow and reddish.
Sweet olive trees are commonly used as tea additives in East Asian nations such as China and Japan. It brings out the natural fruity flavor of several black and green teas, resulting in a beverage that closely resembles jasmine tea, but with a lighter, fruitier taste. For an aromatic tea known as Kwei Hua, the leaves are sometimes blended in.