Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 86 Pittosporum tobira

Common Names: Japanese mockorange, Japanese pittosporum, tobira Family: Pittosporaceae (pittosporum Family)
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Japanese mockorange trimmed as a small tree
Jack grows the variegated variety as a small understory tree by trimming the lower branches and limiting the number of stems emerging from the base of the plant.


This beautiful broadleafed evergreen shrub or small tree can reach up to 15 ft (4.6 m) in height and approximately the same in width. In general the Japanese pittosporum grows taller in the shade while those grown in full sun are more compact. In both situations the plant assumes an upright round-headed form with branches radiating out from around the stems. There is a dwarf variety that grows to only about 2 ft (0.6 m) in height called 'Wheeler's Dwarf'. This densely branched and compact shrub forms neat bushel basket size mounds that find use in groundcover plantings, especially in commercial landscapes.

The leathery leaves are glossy on the top with undersides that are lighter and have a dull surface. These very ornamental leaves reach a length of from 1-5 in (2.5-12.7 cm) and up to 1 in (2.5 cm) wide with edges that recurve (curl down and inward). They are arranged alternately in a whorl around the stem, an arrangement that provides dense foliage which I think enhances the plant's interest and attractiveness. There is also a popular variegated form that seems to be more frequently grown than the species. It has grey-green leaves with cream-colored irregular margins that permit it to make a pleasing contrast in mixed plantings.

Another common name for this plant is Japanese mockorange because the scent put forth by its blossoms is similar to that of the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis). The small flowers are about 0.5 in (1.3 cm) in diameter and are held in clusters at the branch tips. They are pure white when they emerge from the bud and slowly age to a mellow creamy yellow. They appear in late spring and last for several weeks. Flowers are more noticeable and attractive on the non-variegated plants thanks to the handsome background of dark green foliage.

Japanese mockorange flowers
The Japanese pittosporum's waxy white flowers add a delightful fragrance to the spring garden. Click to download a large version (800x600) of this image.


Pittosporum tobira is native to China and Japan, but is used as an ornamental in milder climates throughout the world. In the US, Pittosporum tobira is a popular landscape item in Florida, along the Gulf Coast and throughout the Pacific Northwest.


Japanese pittosporum is subject to aphids and scale which tend to congregate along the midrib on the underside of leaves. This plant is very adaptable and will grow in most soils except for those that are constantly wet. Light: Sun to shade. Moisture: Moderate moisture is required for fastest growth and best looks. Established plants are able to survive long periods of drought but will look the worse for wear - will recover when adequate moisture is obtained. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 10. Propagation: By cuttings and seeds


Japanese pittosporum is a good choice for screens and informal hedges. It can also be closely sheared to create formal hedges and topiary although I think there are better shrubs for this purpose. This is because its relatively large leaves look shabby when portions are sliced off. On the other hand I do like to selectively trim and remove the lower limbs to create small trees that serve as bonsai-like specimens for patio areas and entryways. However you choose to prune them, they look great and will also grow well in containers. The beautiful evergreen foliage and ability to produce its fragrant flowers indoors make this pittosporum a desirable greenhouse plant. Grow the variegated variety in the high shade of pine trees where they will thrive. The gray-green and cream foliage look especially nice in spring when grown as a backdrop to pink azaleas.

The Japanese pittosporum is also salt and drought tolerant so it is a good choice for seaside plantings.

Japanese mock orange seeds
In sixteen years of growing Japanese pittosporum, 2001 was the first year that I've observed the plants produce mature seeds. The round pods burst open to reveal the sticky brown seeds within - a rare site here in Florida where I garden.
a sheared Japanese mockorange hedge
Japanese pittosporum can be closely sheared and maintained in a compact shape. Easy to care for and durable, this shrub is a favorite for commercial plantings. This closely coiffed pittosporum hedge anchors two Chinese elms (Ulmus parvifolia) in a parking lot traffic island.


However you grow it, as hedge, specimen or screen, the Japanese pittosporum makes a favorable impression. This is an adaptable and versatile woody ornamental with many desirable attributes. It is inexpensive and, in areas where it can be grown, is readily available from discount garden centers. This pittosporum is a moderate to fast grower if provided adequate nutrients and water and has a long life span. I have several of the variegated variety planted around my favorite sitting area near the Catfish Pond. I hang out here for hours at a time in the spring watching birds, reading and enjoying the mockorange's heavenly perfume (which the butterflies seem to like as much as I do). Plant one near your patio or favorite outdoor hangout!

The common name mockorange is used for several unrelated species that produce scents reminiscent of citrus blossoms which is why we prefer to use the common name Japanese pittosporum. Mockorange is also used to refer to species of the genus Philadelphus and to other species of Pittosporum.

There are over one hundred species in the genus Pittosporum. Many are from New Zealand and Australia and, although not as commonly seen in the US as P. tobira, are also popular ornamentals. P. undulatum, the sweet pittosporum, delivers deliciously scented flowers to Zone 9-10 gardens.

Steve Christman 12/01/96, updated 1/20/02, 2/2/04, 4/19/04

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Pittosporum species profiled on Floridata:

Pittosporum tobira

( Japanese mockorange, Japanese pittosporum, tobira )

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