Plant of the Month – October, 2007

Latin Name: Osmanthus heterophyllus
Common name: false holly or holly-leafed osmanthus
Flowers: Tiny, creamy white
Foliage: Evergreen, holly-like
Mature height: 8 to 15 feet
Hardiness: USDA hardiness Zones 6a to 9
Soil: Acidic to slightly alkaline, well-drained
Exposure: Full shade to morning sun
Water usage: Medium
Sources: Local nurseries

Why in the world would I recommend this shrub if it looks almost like a holly but doesn’t make showy red berries? Well, just one word: FRAGRANCE!

Most likely, long before you see this plant, you’ll smell it. That is, if it is in flower. The intoxicating fragrance is almost magical in its ability to stop people in their tracks. Most of the time, visitors to the Dallas Arboretum don’t believe me when I tell them they are smelling “some holly-looking bush.” Their first question, “What is that incredible fragrance?” is quickly followed by “Where are the flowers?”.

Osmanthus has tiny, creamy white flowers that appear in fall and early spring. You must be near the plants to actually see the flowers and usually even have to lift a few leaves to see them closeup. Personally, I don’t mind risking the sharp spines on the leaves to bury my nose in a branch of the flowers.

False holly grows into a upright, rounded shrub that functions well in Texas landscapes as a hedge, barrier or wind screen. We use them as understory plantings under mature trees and for adding height to landscape plantings. They can be pruned to form denser hedges, but prune carefully. The flowers are produced on older stems. If left unpruned, plants will reach 10 to 15 feet tall and around 8 feet in diameter.

There are other species of osmanthus, but I have found this one to be the most adaptable for use in Texas. I have no problem with iron chlorosis in our alkaline clay soils, and they also perform well in the sandy, acidic soils of East Texas. Once established, false holly is quite drought-tolerant.

You can see false holly at the Dallas Arboretum. We are located at 8525 Garland Road, overlooking White Rock Lake. For more information, visit

About the author: Jimmy Turner is the Director of Horticulture Research at the Dallas Arboretum. For more plant profiles by Jimmy, subscribe to Neil Sperry’s GARDENS Magazine.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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