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 an important role in its native China, where it’s a popular component in both herbalism and perfumery. Osmanthus symbolizes true love, faithfulness, fertility, and peace, which is why it’s often used in wedding bouquets and floral design. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about Osmanthus flower meaning and symbolism, their history and origins, uses and benefits, plus learn about their cultural significance around the world.
- Osmanthus Flower Meaning – The Essentials
- About Osmanthus Flowers
- Uses and Benefits of Osmanthus Flowers
- Osmanthus Flower Meaning & Symbolism
- The Cultural Significance of Osmanthus Flowers
- Suitable Gifting Occasions for Osmanthus Flowers
- Osmanthus Flower FAQ:
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 carry the meaning of good fortune, prosperity, and nobility.
About Osmanthus Flowers
Family, Genus, and Taxonomy
Osmanthus fragrans, commonly known as sweet olive or tea olive, belong to the Osmanthus genus, which contains about 30 species of flowering plants. Osmanthus belongs to the Oleaceae or olive family.
Botanical Characteristics, Colors, Fragrances
Osmanthus grows as an evergreen shrub or small tree. It may reach heights of 10 to 20 feet and has glossy, leathery green foliage.
In summer and fall, osmanthus blooms with white blossoms that have a sweet, strong fragrance that some describe as fruity, like apricot.
Each bloom is less than an inch across and has four to five petals. Flowers are followed by black and blue drupes.
History & Origins of Osmanthus fragrans Flowers
Osmanthus flowers have long been cultivated in their native China and other Asian regions, where they are prized for their sweet scent, as well as their medicinal and culinary uses.
In 1789, an osmanthus specimen was introduced to the Kew Gardens in England. At the time, the plant was known as Olea fragrans. The specimen was from southern China, and it didn’t survive the cool English climate.
The French botanist Jean Marie Delavay re-introduced osmanthus to European gardeners in the mid-19th century. Delavay toured China in the 1800s; he described and brought back thousands of specimens, osmanthus among them.
Popular Types, Species, and Cultivars
O. fragrans is commonly grown as an ornamental in East Asian, North American, European gardens. It’s also grown for its highly scented blossoms, which are used in perfumery.
Popular cultivars, hybrids, and varieties include:
- ‘Apricot Gold’: Blooms with rose-gold flowers
- ‘Aurantiacus’: Pale orange blossoms that bloom in autumn
- ‘Butter Yellow’: Flowers are pale yellow
- ‘Conger yellow’: Boasts yellow blooms
- ‘Fudingzhu’: Very fragrant, long-lasting blossoms
- ‘Hunter’s Creek”: 20-foot-tall shrub with creamy white blooms
- ‘Live Oak Gold’: Has golden yellow blossoms
- ‘Orange Supreme’: Blooms with orange flowers
- Osmanthus × burkwoodii: Compact shurb with inconspicuous, but highly fragrant, flowers
- Osmanthus × fortunei: A hybrid of O. fragrans and O. heterophyllus that grows to 25 feet tall
- ‘Thunbergii’: A bushy, 10-foot shrub with purple and orange new foliage
- ‘T-tower’: Flowers are pure white
- var. semperflorens: Hardy to USDA zone 7 and long-flowering
Osmanthus comes from the Greek osma, which means “fragrant” and anthos, which means “flower.”
What Regions are Osmanthus Flowers Native To?
O. fragrans is native to Asia. Their range stretches from southern China to Taiwan, southern Japan, Cambodia, and Thailand, as well as the southern Himalayas.
When are Osmanthus Flowers in Season?
O. fragrans blooms in summer and in fall. Some cultivars, such as O. fragrans ‘Aurantiacus’, bloom in autumn.
Uses and Benefits of Osmanthus Flowers
Osmanthus flowers have long been prized for their medicinal uses. Bark from the stems is used in a decoction that treats boils, carbuncles, and skin problems. Essential oils from the plant can be used as an effective insect repellent.
Osmanthus roots have been used to treat rheumatism, bruising, and dysmenorrhoea. Flowers are used for treating coughs, as are bark and stems which are used for whooping cough and retinitis. Flowers may also be used to treat skin and hair and in cosmetics.
Scientific research reveals that O. fragrans contains antioxidants. It may also have the potential as an anti-inflammatory and to reduce oxidative stress.
Osmanthus has culinary uses, as well. The Chinese have long used the fragrant flowers to sweeten and flavor drinks, pastries, soups, and other dishes. The unripened drupes may be brined and eaten like olives.
Often, the flowers are infused with green or black tea to create osmanthus tea. The Chinese city of Guilin is especially known for its use of osmanthus flowers; in translation, Guilin means “forest of sweet osmanthus.” Wine made with osmanthus is commonly consumed during autumn festivals.
There have been no toxic effects reported to people, pets, or livestock from ingesting osmanthus. It does attract bees with its apricot-scented flowers.
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 originally 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.
Then there’s the legend of the Moon Lady, who stole a magical pill from her husband. The pill gave her the ability to fly, so she flew all the way 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
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 has long played an important 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 can also symbolize prosperity, happiness, and good fortune.
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.
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Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.
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