All photos by Mark Leichty

When I wrote last month’s article, COVID-19 was a faint shadow in the west, around Seattle, where I’m sitting now writing a new Green Guide. The shadow has grown to envelop us all, but hope remains, and we will get through this crisis. Our industry is not only resilient, but we are positioned to be a positive outlet for people who are by necessity forced to stay home. We can provide plants to brighten everyone’s gardens and their lives. I’m reminded of the book “Love in a Time of Cholera” but I’m changing the title for this article to “Osmanthus in a Time of COVID-19.”

I only have to go a few feet out my door to find a beautiful specimen of Osmanthus delavayi. A wonderful, spring-flowering shrub, O. delaveyi was discovered in the Yunnan Province of China by a Jesuit missionary-botanist, Fr. Père Jean Marie Delavayi in 1890. In an interesting parallel to our current COVID-19 situation, Delavayi had contracted bubonic plague in China two years prior, and he never fully recovered. Despite this, he cataloged some 1,500 additional plant species in China before his death in 1895.

Osmanthus delavayi is a very useful shrub for numerous reasons. Its sweet fragrance is delightful, and structurally, it can be hedged very easily or left to grow into a nicely shaped specimen reaching up to 8 feet tall and wide over many years. It is pollinator friendly, giving bumblebees and honeybees abundant pollen in early spring.

In ornamental horticulture, it can be sold in a variety of pot sizes, from 4 inches on up and can easily fit into a B&B specimen program, as well. In the garden, it grows in both full sun to shade, though it will stay more compact and bloom more intensely in brighter locations. It prefers well-drained soil and is somewhat drought-tolerant once established. It does like a very occasional deep watering during extended dry periods.

Why grow Osmanthus delavayi?

  • It’s an outstanding evergreen shrub.
  • It has beautiful fragrant white flowers in spring.
  • It can easily be hedged.
  • It’s pollinator friendly.
  • It’s drought-tolerant.
  • It’s deer resistant.

Mark Leichty is the Director of Business Development at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery near Portland. He is a certified plant geek who enjoys visiting beautiful gardens and garden centers searching for rare and unique plants to satisfy his plant lust.