Native to China, Indochina and south Japan, the sweet osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans) is a shrub or small tree that can be found at an elevation of 1200m - 3000m in the temperate zones of these countries. Its genus name, osmanthus, comes from the Greek word osma, meaning fragrant, and anthos, meaning flower. True to its name, osmanthus has strongly scented flowers that smell like peaches or apricots. It blooms from late summer to autumn, coinciding and thus becoming associated with Mid-Autumn Festival, the Chinese harvest celebration on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar.
Sweet osmanthus blooming in Flower Dome.
This osmanthus is actually one of the ‘four-season’ varieties that blooms almost year-round!
There are several traditional Chinese stories associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival. Have you ever heard of Wu Gang, a character in traditional Chinese folklore? I’m sure you’re wondering what’s the connection between Wu Gang and the osmanthus tree! It was said that due to a divine punishment, Wu Gang was made to constantly chop atn a self-healing osmanthus tree on the moon. Thus, 吳剛伐桂 (Wu Gang chopping the tree), a Chinese idiom, is used to describe any endless toil.
Closeup of the Osmanthus flower.
Did you know that the fragrant osmanthus flowers are used both in Chinese cuisine and in traditional medicine? Dried osmanthus flowers are brewed together with green or black tea leaves to create osmanthus tea and lend their sweet perfume to osmanthus cakes, wine, jam, and many other foods. Who would’ve known that such small flowers could have so many uses! In traditional Chinese medicine, osmanthus tea is said to lower blood pressure, and treat irregular menstruation as well. Don’t you want to smell these fresh and fragrant beauties for yourself? Come check them out in Flower Dome while you’re visiting our outdoor Mid-Autumn Festival lantern displays!
Written by: Ng Yu Qin, Horticulturist, Research and Horticulture
Yu Qin is always looking for ways to pick up new skills and put them to use. She spends most of her time with orchids and enjoys learning something new about them every day!