912 Osmanthus americanusCommon Names: devilwood, American olive, wild olive Family: Oleaceae (olive Family)
Wild olive, or devilwood, is an evergreen small tree or large shrub with shiny opposite leaves and tiny fragrant flowers borne in the early spring. The trunk is usually single and short, branching near the ground. Wild olive gets up to 50 ft (15.2 m) in height, but is usually around 10-20 ft (3.1-6.1 m) tall with a rounded, 8-15 ft (2.4-4.6 m) spread. The leaves are leathery, elliptic and 2-6 in (5.1-15.2 cm) long. The little creamy white flowers are held in branched clusters arising from the leaf axils. They have four petals, fused together into a tube about 1/5 in (0.5 cm) long. The flower buds are usually well developed and conspicuous by early winter and the flowers open at the first sign of spring and continue into March and April. They are sweetly fragrant - amazingly so for such little blossoms! Wild olive flowers smell very much like the flowers of the related fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) but they look more like the flowers of the even more closely related tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans). The fruits are drupes or "stone fruits", dark bluish purple when mature and almost spherical, about 0.5 in (1.3 cm) in diameter.
Wild olive, Osmanthus americanus, occurs in dry woods and mesic hardwood hammocks, often along streams, on the Southeastern Coastal Plain from SE Virginia to Central Florida to SE Louisiana. It is rarely abundant, being usually a component of mixed species forests. Wild olive is a common tree, along with live oak (Quercus virginiana), of the coastal hammocks that grow on barrier islands.
CultureWild olive is an adaptable, slow growing little tree that thrives in almost any soil and needs no attention once established. Light: Partial shade to full sun. Wild olive does very well in light, dappled shade, and even in almost full shade. Moisture: Once established, wild olive is drought tolerant. It also can tolerate moist soils, and even an occasional flooding. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Although its native range is restricted to USDA zones 8 and 9, wild olive is known to be hardy in zone 5. This is the most cold hardy of the cultivated Osmanthus species. Propagation: Seeds should be cleaned and planted outside as soon as ripe; they usually take two years to germinate. Tip cuttings from half ripe wood taken in summer can be rooted under glass.
Use the medium-textured wild olive as a specimen in the shade of tall pines or a big live oak. Use it in naturalistic settings and wildlife gardens. In a mass, the evergreen wild olive with its upright, oval form, would make an excellent screen.
There are a couple dozen species in the genus Osmanthus, including the rare scrub olive (O. megacarpus), an Endangered Species restricted to the scrub habitats of Central Florida. Other species are in eastern Asia, Hawaii and New Caledonia. Osmanthus is in the same family as the true olive (Olea europaea), but we at Floridata don't know if the fruits could be processed for consumption like olives.
Although not as well known in cultivation as the tea olive and the hollyleaf olive (O. heterophylla), this American native deserves to be more widely planted. It is becoming increasingly available in the nursery trade.
Steve Christman 2/14/01; updated 2/27/04, 1/25/08, 4/5/09, 11/5/11