False Holly Osmanthus heterophyllus

👤 Non-toxic to humans
🐾 Non-toxic to pets
🌸 Blooming
🍪 Edible
‍🌱 Easy-care
holly olive


Commonly known as the holly olive, this plant is characterized by its glossy, rich green leaves. These leaves are distinctly spiky, resembling those of a holly plant, which is where it gets one of its common names. Over time, the leaves may become less prickly as the plant matures. The holly olive is evergreen, maintaining its foliage throughout the year. During the blooming season, the plant produces small, white, inconspicuous flowers that emit a sweet, fragrant scent, which can add a pleasant aroma to the area where it's planted. Following the flowering period, the holly olive may also produce small, blue-black berries, which can attract birds and other wildlife. The overall appearance of the holly olive is dense and bushy, making it a popular choice for hedges and privacy screens in gardens. Its ability to be pruned into various shapes also makes it a favorite for formal and topiary gardens. The leathery texture of the leaves along with their spikiness gives the plant a robust look that can provide contrast in a landscape setting.

Plant Info
Common Problems

About this plant

  • memoNames

    • Family


    • Synonyms

      Holly Osmanthus, False Holly, Holly Olive, Holly Tea Olive, Variegated False Holly, Variegated Holly Osmanthus.

    • Common names

      Osmanthus aquifolium, Osmanthus ilicifolius, Osmanthus myrtifolius, Ilex aquifolium, Phillyrea aquifolium, Phillyrea ilicifolia, Phillyrea myrtifolia.

  • skullToxicity

    • To humans

      False holly is not considered toxic to humans. However, like many non-toxic plants, it is not meant for consumption and ingesting it in large quantities could potentially cause mild stomach upset due to the presence of plant compounds that the human digestive system is not adapted to process.

    • To pets

      False holly is also not considered highly toxic to pets. However, it is not recommended for pets to ingest this plant due to the potential for mild gastrointestinal upset if ingested in significant amounts. Symptoms could include vomiting or diarrhea, but serious toxicity is unlikely. Always monitor your pet and consult with a vet if you suspect they've ingested a large amount of any non-food plant.

  • infoCharacteristics

    • Life cycle


    • Foliage type


    • Color of leaves


    • Flower color


    • Height

      8-10 feet (2.4-3 meters)

    • Spread

      6-8 feet (1.8-2.4 meters)

    • Plant type


    • Hardiness zones


    • Native area



  • money-bagGeneral Benefits

    • Aesthetic Appeal: The False Holly, with its glossy green leaves and dense foliage, adds visual interest to gardens and landscapes.
    • Low Maintenance: Once established, it is quite drought-tolerant and requires minimal care, making it a convenient choice for gardeners.
    • Wildlife Attractor: Its fragrant flowers attract butterflies and other pollinators, while the berries provide food for birds.
    • Privacy Screen: Due to its dense growth, it can be used as an effective hedge or screen, providing privacy for gardens and yards.
    • Adaptability: It is able to grow in a range of soil types, whether acidic, loamy, sandy, or clay, as long as they are well-drained.
    • Versatility in Landscaping: It can be utilized in various landscape designs, including formal hedges, foundation plantings, or as a stand-alone specimen.
    • Seasonal Interest: Throughout the year, it offers different points of interest from the evergreen foliage, autumn berries to the delicate spring flowers.
    • Tolerance to Pruning: Responds well to pruning and can be shaped into topiaries or formal hedges, offering creative versatility for garden design.
    • Deer Resistance: It is generally resistant to deer browsing, which can be particularly beneficial in areas where deer predation is a concern for gardeners.
    • Cultural Significance: Across different cultures, it is often associated with good fortune and is used in festive decorations.

  • medicalMedical Properties

    • This plant is not used for medical purposes.

  • windAir-purifying Qualities

    This plant is not specifically known for air purifying qualities.

  • leavesOther Uses

    • Osmanthus heterophyllus, commonly known as False Holly, can be used in bonsai cultivation for creating miniature landscapes due to its small leaves and ability to be pruned into shapes.
    • Its wood is occasionally utilized in fine woodworking for inlays and small objects due to its density and fine grain.
    • False Holly's fragrant flowers are sometimes used in perfumery, offering a delicate scent often described as reminiscent of peaches or apricots.
    • Culinary explorers use the flowers to flavor teas, jams, and sweet confections, creating unique and subtle taste experiences.
    • In landscape design, Osmanthus heterophyllus is used to create dense, impenetrable hedges that offer privacy and security.
    • The dense foliage of False Holly provides ideal nesting sites and shelter for garden birds and beneficial insects.
    • The leaves are used in floral arrangements and as filler foliage due to their resilience and glossy appearance.
    • Applied in traditional lantern festivals in some cultures, the flowers of False Holly are incorporated into decorations due to their fragrance and beauty.
    • Osmanthus heterophyllus is sometimes used as a natural dye source, with its flowers yielding delicate shades for fabrics.
    • In some cultures, the flowers are used to impart fragrance to linens and clothing by placing dried blossoms among the fabrics.

Interesting Facts

  • bedFeng Shui

    The False Holly is not used in Feng Shui practice.

  • aquariusZodiac Sign Compitability

    The False Holly is not used in astrology practice.

  • spiralPlant Symbolism

    • Peace: Osmanthus flowers, emitting a sweet scent, are often associated with peace and harmony in the environment.
    • Nobility: In traditional Chinese culture, the osmanthus (commonly referred to as "sweet olive") is connected with high-ranking officials and nobility due to its refined fragrance.
    • Love and Romance: The sweet olive's enchanting scent symbolizes love, making it a choice flower in weddings and romantic occasions in some cultures.
    • Good Fortune: Sweet olive blooms in the autumn, a season traditionally linked with abundance and wealth, leading to associations with good luck and fortune.
    • Festivity: With its flowering season coinciding with the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, the sweet olive often represents joy and new beginnings.

Every 2-3 weeks
2500 - 10000 Lux
Every 2-3 years
Spring to summer
As needed
  • water dropWater

    False Holly should be watered thoroughly, allowing the soil to dry slightly between waterings. Typically, you should provide water every 7 to 10 days, using about 1 gallon for outdoor plants, depending on weather conditions and soil drainage. For potted plants, adjust the amount of water based on the pot size, usually between 8 to 16 ounces. Over-watering can lead to root rot, so ensure good drainage and decrease watering frequency during cooler months.

  • sunLight

    False Holly prefers full sun to partial shade. It thrives in a location that receives at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight daily but is also tolerant of light shade. Too much shade can result in fewer flowers and a less dense habit. A spot that offers morning sunlight with some afternoon shade is ideal, especially in hotter climates.

  • thermometerTemperature

    False Holly can tolerate a range of temperatures and is hardy from USDA zones 7 to 9. It can survive minimum temperatures of around 0 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit and maximum temperatures as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the ideal temperature range for this plant is between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. False Holly can be damaged by temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit without proper protection.

  • scissorsPruning

    Pruning False Holly helps maintain its shape, encourage bushier growth, and remove any dead or damaged branches. Prune in late winter or early spring before new growth begins. This can be done annually, but the plant can also be pruned every other year if desired. The best time to prune extensively is during its dormant period to minimize stress on the plant.

  • broomCleaning

    As needed

  • bambooSoil

    False Holly thrives in well-draining, fertile soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH of 6.0-7.5. A good mix can be made with equal parts garden loam, peat moss, and sharp sand or perlite to facilitate drainage.

  • plantRepotting

    False Holly should be repotted every 2-3 years or when root bound, ideally during spring before the onset of the growing season.

  • water dropsHumidity & Misting

    False Holly prefers average room humidity levels; it's adaptable but thrives when humidity is above 40%.

  • pinSuitable locations

    • Indoor

      Ensure bright indirect light, avoid dry heat sources, and maintain moderate humidity.

    • Outdoor

      Plant in partial shade, shelter from harsh winds, mulch, and ensure soil is well-draining.

    • Hardiness zone

      7-9 USDA

  • circleLife cycle

    The life of Osmanthus heterophyllus, commonly known as holly osmanthus or false holly, begins with seed germination, which is enhanced by cold stratification and occurs in moist, well-drained soil. Following germination, the seedling stage involves the development of primary leaves and a root system. As the plant enters the juvenile phase, it develops the characteristic spiny leaves, resembling those of a holly, and undergoes vegetative growth, increasing in size and leaf mass. This evergreen shrub may take several years to reach maturity, at which point it begins to produce fragrant white flowers in the late summer through fall, signaling its reproductive phase. Pollination by insects leads to the production of small, blue-black fruits (drupes), which are then dispersed by birds and other animals, thus completing the cycle. The mature plant can enjoy a long lifespan, sometimes living and growing for several decades, provided it is in a suitable environment with adequate care.

  • sproutPropogation

    • Propogation time

      Spring to summer

    • The most popular method of propagation for the False Holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus) involves semi-hardwood cuttings. This typically takes place during the late summer. To carry out this method, a grower would select healthy stems of the current year’s growth. The cuttings should be about 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) long, with the leaves removed from the lower half. The base of the cutting is then dipped in rooting hormone to encourage growth and placed in a well-draining potting mix. The cuttings are kept under high humidity and indirect light until they have rooted, which may take several weeks. Regular misting and a consistent temperature can help improve the success rate of rooting.