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Description of Tea Olive Tree

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Tea olive trees are evergreen plants prized for their appealing scent and visually attractive flowers and foliage. These trees add not only aesthetic interest to a gardening space, but also a prized fragrance that can liven up your landscape or contribute to bringing the outdoors into your home if a breeze from the garden wafts through the window.


Considered either large shrubs or small trees with dark-green foliage, tea olives (Osmanthus species) are highly fragrant plants that emit a very sweet aroma, according to the Clemson University Extension. Leaves have toothed edges and are reminiscent of holly leaves, as one of the tea olive plant's other names, "false holly," suggests. The tea tree's flowers produce the fragrance and display blossoms in cream, white, orange and shades of yellow depending on the variety.


Tea trees typically have an upright growth habit that forms a round to ovular shape with dense foliage. The rate of growth for this tree is considered slow to moderate. Annually, tea olive trees grow 4 to 12 inches. With the slower growth rate and dense foliage, tea olive trees are often used in the home landscape as hedges or screens as they are easily shaped. Additionally, tea olives are well-suited for use in solitary planting, according to the Clemson University Extension. Established tea olive trees reach a height and width of 6 to 30 feet.

Care Requirements

For vigorous plants, follow proper care requirements. Tea olive trees thrive in full to partial shade, though certain varieties experience sun damage. Pay attention to the particular species and cultivar of your plant for appropriate maintenance. Thriving in acid, moist, well-drained soil with good fertility, established trees are reasonably tolerant to drought. If you choose to prune your tea olives, do so for aesthetic reasons, as this type of tree does not require heavy pruning, according to the Clemson University Extension.


Since tea olive trees are sturdy plants with very few problems, keep a list of the few potential issues that may arise for easy identification and problem-solving. Tea olive trees become vulnerable to disease problems as a result of stress and age; well-maintained plants are rarely affected. Root rot caused by a variety of fungi attacks root systems, particularly in wet sites like plants in soil with poor drainage. Fungal infections Cercospora leaf spot and anthracnose may occur. During droughts, Botryosphaeria canker infects stressed tea olive trees, according to the Clemson University Extension. Avoid excessive moisture or moisture loss for healthy plants.


Different plant species provide expanded variety when choosing tea olive trees. Holly tea olives (O. heterophyllus), also referred to as false holly are a smaller variety that reaches 8 to 10 feet in height with a narrow structure. Fragrant tea olives (O. fragrans), also called sweet osmanthus, are prized for their production of the most potent fragrance of the tea olive trees. Reaching a general height of 10 to 12 feet with a width of 8 feet, fragrant teas bloom for two months in autumn. Devilwoods (O. americanus) are a native tea olive tree often found in wet sites like swamps; growing up to 25 feet tall, this species produces small, fragrant flowers. A hybrid species called fortune's tea olive (O. x fortunei) is a breed of O. fragrans with O. heterophyllus, creating a tree that grows to a height of 15 to 20 feet with white, aromatic blossoms, according to the Clemson University Extension.

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