Sweet Olive (Osmanthus) – Identification

Q: This past weekend while on an afternoon walk we smelled quite a potent and sweet aroma. However, we did not see any plants, bushes, or trees in bloom.

I can only describe the smell as very sweet, almost like a combination of strawberries or peaches, and very concentrated. Can you give me an idea of what plant this might be?

A: It’s almost certainly a sweet olive, Osmanthus fragrans. I remember walking on a path lined with these large evergreen shrubs at Barnsley Gardens, near Adairsville, one year and being intoxicated by the fragrance.

The flowers are very small compared to their perfume. The leaves are lightly toothed, in contrast to other osmanthus species, whose leaves might fool you into thinking they are those of a holly.

Another fragrant osmanthus is Fortune’s tea olive, Osmanthus x fortunei. The leaves are slightly more “toothy” than sweet olive and it usually blooms only in fall.

One of the best things about sweet olive is that it blooms again in spring. Keep your nose held high in October and in March each year.

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