1. Family: Oleaceae Hoffmanns. & Link
    1. Genus: Osmanthus Lour.
      1. Osmanthus fragrans Lour.

        The generic name Osmanthus comes from the Greek osma, meaning fragrant, and anthos, meaning flower. Osmanthus fragrans certainly lives up to this name, having exquisitely scented flowers. It has been cultivated in China for about 2,500 years, and is still of importance there today, the flowers being widely used to flavour tea, wine and sweets, as well as an ingredient in herbal medicine. The city of Guilin (meaning ‘forest of sweet osmanthus’) is named after the numerous Osmanthus trees there. It is a popular street tree throughout the warmer parts of China, filling the air with scent on warm autumn evenings.

    [KSP]

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    Fragrant olive is an evergreen tree or shrub with strongly scented flowers. It is cultivated as an ornamental and has a long history of use in traditional herbal medicine and flavouring tea and confectionery.

    The generic name Osmanthus comes from the Greek osma, meaning fragrant, and anthos, meaning flower. Osmanthus fragrans certainly lives up to this name, having exquisitely scented flowers. It has been cultivated in China for about 2,500 years, and is still of importance there today, the flowers being widely used to flavour tea, wine and sweets, as well as an ingredient in herbal medicine. The city of Guilin (meaning ‘forest of sweet osmanthus’) is named after the numerous Osmanthus trees there. It is a popular street tree throughout the warmer parts of China, filling the air with scent on warm autumn evenings.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Native from the Himalaya (where it is found at 1,200–3,000 m above sea level) to China, Indochina and south Japan: also commonly cultivated in China, Taiwan and south Japan.

    Description

    A large, upright shrub or small tree in the wild, with finely-toothed, evergreen, glossy dark green leaves, 7–15 cm long and 2–5 cm wide. The flowers are small (5 mm long), creamy-white (or orange-coloured in Osmanthus fragrans var. aurantiacus ), strongly fragrant, four-petalled and are borne in stalked clusters, from summer to autumn. The fruits are bluish berries up to 12 mm long.

    Osmanthus fragrans  was formally described by João de Loureiro, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary, whose  Flora Cochinchinensis , published in 1790, included descriptions of plants from Cochinchina (in southern Vietnam), China and Mozambique.

    Uses

    Osmanthus fragrans has a long history of use in herbal medicine, and is used in perfumery and as a flavouring. The flowers are used to make a scented jam and tea (hence its common name, tea olive), and in traditional herbal medicine a decoction of the stem bark is used to treat boils and carbuncles. The essential oil has insect-repelling properties.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    Description of seeds: Average 1,000 seed weight = 174.95 g

    Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: None

    Cultivation

    Fragrant olive can form a tree up to 6 m high and wide, and so needs plenty of room to grow, though is often trained as a small, standard tree. It is hardy to -5°C for short periods, but in cooler areas, such as Britain, it is best grown in a glasshouse or conservatory, or against a warm wall.

    Osmanthus fragrans was first introduced to Europe in 1789, when it was brought to Kew as Olea fragrans , but this early introduction was from southern China, and did not thrive or flower well in England.

    This species at Kew

    Fragrant olive can be seen growing in the Temperate House at Kew (currently closed for restoration - due to reopen in 2018).

    Specimens of wood from Osmanthus fragrans are held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection, where they are available to researchers, by appointment.

    Distribution
    China, Japan
    Ecology
    Forests.
    Conservation
    Not known to be threatened.
    Hazards

    None known.

    [KSP]
    Use
    Ornamental, culinary, medicinal.

    Images

    Distribution

    Found In:

    Assam, Cambodia, China North-Central, China South-Central, China Southeast, East Himalaya, Hainan, Japan, Myanmar, Nepal, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, West Himalaya

    Introduced Into:

    Korea

    Common Names

    English
    Fragrant olive

    Osmanthus fragrans Lour. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    s.coll. [2809], Sikkim K000978701 syntype
    s.coll. [s.n.], Nepal K000978703

    First published in Fl. Cochinch.: 29 (1790)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] Chang, C.S., Kim, H. & Chang, K.S. (2014) Provisional checklist of vascular plants for the Korea peninsula flora (KPF) . DESIGNPOST
    • [6] Xiang, Q.B. & Liu, Y.L. (2007) An illustrated monograph of the Sweet Osmanthus cultivars in China . Zhejiang science & technology press
    • [7] Green, P.S. (2006) World Checklist of Oleaceae Manuscript . Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

    Literature

    • [2] Chang, M-C., Chiu, L-C., Wei, Z. & Green, P.S. (2011). Flora of China, Volume 15: Oleaceae. Osmanthus fragrans.
    • [3] World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [4] Pinto, M.S. (2009). The Jesuits Le Cheron d´Incarville (1706-1757) and João de Loureiro (1717-1791) and the Plants of China. Presentation to the Macau Ricci Institute.
    • [5] Mabberley, D.J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: A Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. 3 rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
    • [8] Manandhar, N.P. (2002). Plants and People of Nepal. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
    • [9] Omura, H., Honda, K. & Hayashi, N. (2000). Floral scent of Osmanthus fragrans discourages foraging behavior of cabbage butterfly, Pieris rapae. J. Chem. Ecol. 26(3): 656-666.
    • [10] Ding Desheng & Kangming Yank (1989). Osmanthus fragrans in China. Perfum. Flavor. 14(5) (Sept.-Oct. 1989): 7-13.
    • [11] Krussmann, G. (1986). Manual of Cultivated Broad-leaved Trees and Shrubs. Batsford, London.
    • [12] Green, P.S. (1958). Osmanthus fragrans f. aurantiacus. Notes Roy. Bot. Gard. Edinburgh 22: 493.
    • [13] Stapf, O. (1928). Osmanthus fragrans var. aurantiacus. Curtis’s Bot. Mag. 154: tab. 9211.

    Sources

    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
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