From East to West: The Universal Appeal of Osmanthus Flower Symbolism

Commonly known as the sweet olive or tea olive, Osmanthus fragrans have long been prized for their intoxicating fragrance. A popular ornamental plant, osmanthus also plays a vital role in its native China, where it’s a popular component in both herbalism and perfumery. Osmanthus symbolizes true love, faithfulness, fertility, and peace, so it’s often used in wedding bouquets and floral designs. Here, we’ll take you through everything you need about the Osmanthus flower’s meaning and symbolism.

Ultimate Guide to Osmanthus Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Osmanthus Flower Meaning – The Essentials

Osmanthus flowers have long symbolized love, faithfulness, and fertility. In Chinese culture, the flowers are used in weddings or given as a gift from a bride to her new family, representing peace. In the language of flowers, osmanthus flowers mean good fortune, prosperity, and nobility.

Etymological Meaning

Osmanthus comes from the Greek osma, which means “fragrant” and anthos, which means “flower.”

Osmanthus Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Osmanthus Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Most commonly, osmanthus flowers bloom in white. These flowers symbolize true love, faithfulness, fertility, nobility, and peace. In the language of flowers, osmanthus may stand for protection, good fortune, happiness, and prosperity.

Orange osmanthus flowers may also symbolize joy, serenity, and optimism.

The Cultural Significance of Osmanthus Flowers

For centuries, osmanthus flowers have played a key role in Chinese culture. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the poet Yang Wanli wrote that osmanthus’s floral scent is so clean and rich it’s “hard to believe it comes from nature and not the moon in heaven.”

In fact, Chinese legend has it that osmanthus initially grew on the moon. On earth below, a plague was devastating the human population, so a fairy scattered osmanthus seeds. When the plants grew and flowered, the fragrant blooms were made into wine that cured the plague.

Other folklore features osmanthus growing on the moon. In some tales, Wu Gang (known as the Chinese Sisyphus) was punished by having to cut down the moon plants, which then regrew endlessly.

The Cultural Significance of Osmanthus Flowers

Then there’s the legend of the Moon Lady, who stole a magical pill from her husband. The pill allowed her to fly, so she flew to the moon. Here, she was stuck in exile forever, with only a lone osmanthus tree to keep her company and remind her of her husband.

The Moon Palace legend tells of the Jade Emperor, who was invited to visit the moon. A magical priest created a silver bridge from Earth to the moon, and when the Emperor crossed, he found an osmanthus tree growing in front of a stunning palace. During his visit, he was entertained by dancers and ate osmanthus-sweetened cakes shaped like the moon.

The city of Hangzhou’s flower is the osmanthus. There, monks long ago planted the shrubs near their temples. Every autumn, the blossoms fall and release their sweet scent. The flowering coincides with the Moon Festival, held in fall.

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Osmanthus Flowers

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Osmanthus Flowers

White osmanthus flowers have long been associated with true love, faithfulness, and fertility. This symbolism makes these sweet-scented blossoms a perfect addition to wedding floral designs. The association with nobility also makes them a good choice for new baby bouquets, as they symbolize children growing up to be noble.

Osmanthus Flower FAQ:

Where does Osmanthus grow?

Osmanthus is native to regions of Asia, from southern China, Taiwan, Japan, and the Himalayas to Cambodia and Thailand. In temperate regions, it grows in USDA hardiness zones 8b to 11a.

How fast does Osmanthus grow?

Osmanthus plants have a medium growth rate. Under ideal conditions, they grow up to 24 inches per year.

How big does Osmanthus grow?

Osmanthus shrubs grow from 10 to 20 feet tall.

What does Osmanthus fragrans smell like?

Osmanthus has a strong, sweet fragrance. Some compare it to apricots or other fruits.

What is Osmanthus good for?

Osmanthus is perfect for weddings and new baby bouquets. It has multiple culinary uses and, when grown as an ornamental evergreen, adds color, texture, and fragrance to the garden year-round.


Osmanthus has long played an essential role in Chinese culture. From folk medicines and culinary uses to legends and festivals, these fragrant blooms are prized for their scent, flavor, and beauty. In the language of flowers, osmanthus stands for peace, love, nobility, faithfulness, and fertility, and can also symbolize prosperity, happiness, and good fortune.

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