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Southeast Regional Reports

Tea Olive Shrubs for the Southeast

When autumn is in the air, so is the fragrance of tea olive flowers

‘Rotundifolius’ false holly. False holly is one of the most cold-hardy species of tea olive. Photo: Paula Gross

If magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora, Zones 7–9) and gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides, Zones 8–11) are the iconic plant perfumes of Southern summers, tea olive (Osmanthus spp. and cvs., Zones 6–11) breezes in to take over that role in fall. Hang out near a tea olive in bloom and I guarantee you’ll overhear a few passersby wondering, “What’s that amazing smell?” Ironically, all three of these are Asian plants, but to us they’re as Southern as sweet tea. Just as there is an occasional Southerner who eschews that beverage, there is a small subset of folks who can’t take the weight of tea olive’s sweet, apricotlike fragrance. I learned this the hard way when I once presented a potential beau with a bouquet of cuttings and got the reply, “It smells like a funeral parlor.” I wilted, but my affection for the plant only took a brief hit.

Since then it…

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