Tea Olive

Small white flowers of a tea olive shrub
Tea olive flower. Photo: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS Trees and Powerlines

Tea olive is a classic Southern shrub that blooms at various times of the year with tiny but amazingly fragrant flowers.


This long-lived shrub is a favorite of Florida gardeners, who prize it for its tough nature and sweet-smelling flowers. It performs best in North and Central Florida but can also be grown in South Florida if planted in partial shade.

Tea olive is also a versatile plant that can make a great backdrop for other plants. It looks good as a specimen plant, and its glossy, evergreen leaves and dense growth habit make it well suited for screens and hedges.

The plants typically flower at several times throughout the year, with some bloom cycles heavier than others. Flowers of the species type are creamy white, while improved cultivars offer yellow or orange flowers (Osmanthus fragrans ‘Butter Yellow’, O. fragrans ‘Apricot Gold’, and O. fragrans f. aurantiacus).

Planting and Care

Tea olive can be grown in full sun or partial shade, though plants growing in deeper shade may become spindly. The plants prefer a well-drained soil and are fairly drought tolerant once established.

Because of its natural columnar shape, tea olive requires only minimal pruning, though gardeners may choose to prune the plant in order to encourage branching. Plants may grow up to 8 feet wide and reach 4 to 30 feet in height depending on the cultivar, but they can also be pruned into a small tree if space is limited.

Apply a complete fertilizer in early spring, preferably one with slow-release nitrogen.

Tea olive is relatively problem free, though it can sometimes be affected by scale if growing conditions are poor. Disease problems aren’t common but may include bortryosphaeria canker, cercospora leaf spot, or anthracnose.

For more information on tea olive, contact your county Extension office.

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