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False Holly Osmanthus heterophyllus

Previously known as:

  • Osmanthus aquifolium
  • Osmanthus ilicifolius
Phonetic Spelling
oz-MAN-thus het-er-oh-FIL-us
Description

False Holly is a large, dense, upright, oval-rounded evergreen shrub or small tree that usually grows 8 to 10 feet tall and may grow up to 20 feet tall and equally as wide in the wild. This plant blooms in the late fall into winter and has inconspicuous flowers that are highly aromatic and pungently sweet. Fruit ripens the year after it is produced, but it is rarely seen in cultivation and is not showy. The deep dark green leaves have entire margins in the upper part of the plant (adult morphology), while those in the lower part tend to be toothed (juvenile morphology). The False Holly's leaves are arranged opposite whereas holly leaves are alternate.

This plant is native to South Korea, Central and South Japan, and Taiwan.

The genus name, Osmanthus, is derived from two Greek words. Osme means fragrant, and anthos means flower. The specific epithet, heterophyllus, is from the Greek, hetero meaning different, and phyllus meaning leaf.

False Holly prefers partial shade to full sun in moist, well-drained, acidic soils.  It tolerates alkaline soils, pollution, drought, heat, and urban conditions. It has a slow growth rate and withstands heavy pruning. It is easily transplanted and is resistant to damage by deer.

 O. x fortunei has broader and larger leaves with more numerous and evenly spaced spines. The leaves on False Holly look like Ilex aquipernyi, but the arrangement of the leaves is different.

This plant is used in hedges, screens, barriers, or as a specimen plant. False Holly is an underused shrub in the landscape and offers fall interest and is a holly alternative. Due to its size, it would be best to avoid using this shrub as a foundation planting; however, smaller cultivars are available.

Seasons of Interest:

Bloom:  Fall     Foliage:  Year-round        Fruits:  Winter (rarely seen)

Quick ID Hints:

  • Leaves are opposite, decussate, narrow, elliptic, and evergreen
  • Both entire leaves and leaves with 1-4 spiny teeth
  • Very fragrant, white, inconspicuous axillary fall flowers

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: False Holly has no serious pest or disease problems, Observe for scale and aphids.

VIDEO created by Andy Pulte for “Landscape Plant Identification, Taxonomy, and Morphology” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Tennessee.

 

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscapes:
Cottage Style Foundation Planting Plant Walls and Hedges Satellite Dish Fountain
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Goshiki'
    green, gold, and creamy foliage, 5 feet tall, 4 feet wide
  • 'Ilicifolius'
    Bushy form with prominent lobed spines new growth bronze.
  • 'Myrtifolius'
    adult form, all leaves elliptic, entire, and only a terminal spine
  • 'Purpureus'
    dark purple juvenile leaves, mature leaves green with a purple tint, hardest form
  • 'Rotundifolius'
    slow growing dwarf form with remnants of lobed spines, less cold hardy, margins have blunt bumps
  • 'Variegatus'
    leaves are green with creamy white margins
'Goshiki', 'Ilicifolius', 'Myrtifolius', 'Purpureus', 'Rotundifolius', 'Variegatus'
Tags:
#fragrant#fragrant flowers#heat tolerant#drought tolerant#fall flowers#specimen#white flowers#slow growing#low maintenance#winter interest#security plant#air pollution tolerant#hedges#cpp#large shrub#deer resistant#nighttime garden#foundation planting#alkaline soils tolerant#screening#fantz#evergreen shrub#urban conditions tolerant#sweet fragrance#winter flowers#flowers late fall#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Goshiki'
    green, gold, and creamy foliage, 5 feet tall, 4 feet wide
  • 'Ilicifolius'
    Bushy form with prominent lobed spines new growth bronze.
  • 'Myrtifolius'
    adult form, all leaves elliptic, entire, and only a terminal spine
  • 'Purpureus'
    dark purple juvenile leaves, mature leaves green with a purple tint, hardest form
  • 'Rotundifolius'
    slow growing dwarf form with remnants of lobed spines, less cold hardy, margins have blunt bumps
  • 'Variegatus'
    leaves are green with creamy white margins
'Goshiki', 'Ilicifolius', 'Myrtifolius', 'Purpureus', 'Rotundifolius', 'Variegatus'
Tags:
#fragrant#fragrant flowers#heat tolerant#drought tolerant#fall flowers#specimen#white flowers#slow growing#low maintenance#winter interest#security plant#air pollution tolerant#hedges#cpp#large shrub#deer resistant#nighttime garden#foundation planting#alkaline soils tolerant#screening#fantz#evergreen shrub#urban conditions tolerant#sweet fragrance#winter flowers#flowers late fall#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Osmanthus
    Species:
    heterophyllus
    Family:
    Oleaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Deer browsing
    Dimensions:
    Height: 8 ft. 0 in. - 20 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 7 ft. 0 in. - 20 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Oval
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Coarse
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    6-feet-12 feet
    12-24 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    7b, 7a, 8b, 8a, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Black
    Blue
    Purple/Lavender
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Ovoid, bluish purple-black to black drupe less than an inch in size that is seldom seen in cultivation.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Cyme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Fall
    Flower Shape:
    Tubular
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    Flowers are plentiful white, sweet-smelling, and are less than an inch in diameter. They have a 4-toothed calyx. Corolla's are campanulate and 4-lobed (lobes are reflexed). There are 2 yellow stamens per flower. Flowers bloom in the late fall, inflorescence is a short, axillary cyme. The flowers are frequently hidden by the leaves.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leathery
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Opposite
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Dentate
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Leaves are opposite, decussate, simple, coriaceous, elliptic to elliptic-oblong, acuminate-spinose, cuneate to broadly cuneate, entire or with 1-4 pairs of prominent triangular lobes bearing a spine. They are lustrous dark green above, yellow-green and reticulate beneath 1-2 inches long and 1-2 inches wide.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Cream/Tan
    Gray/Silver
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Lenticels:
    Conspicuous
    Stem Description:
    Twigs are light gray to tan with numerous, extremely small raised lenticels.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Cottage Garden
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Garden for the Blind
    Nighttime Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Barrier
    Border
    Flowering Tree
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Security
    Specimen
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Heat
    Pollution
    Urban Conditions