The osmanthus plant is one of the members of the olive family, loved all over the world for its fantastic petite flowers and enigmatic fragrance.
It has quite a significant role in perfumery as well as traditional Chinese medicine, but the flowers that this shrub produces also have a lot of symbolism that is worth knowing, especially if you want to give someone osmanthus, or you have just received it.
Behind The Name: What Does ‘Osmanthus’ Mean?
Osmanthus refers to an entire genus of roughly 30 different species of flowering trees and shrubs in the olive plant family.
Most plants in this genus come from eastern Asia, but there are a few which hail from Sumatra, Caucasus, and New Caledonia.
The Osmanthus fragrans, which is the most perfumed, comes from many parts of Asia.
Depending on the variety, how much space they have, and how mature the plant is, it can reach anywhere from 7 feet to 39 feet tall.
The plant also produces its signature flowers in spring, summer, or autumn in small clusters, and the following fruit injects shades of rich blue and purple into your garden.
The genus name comprises two Greek words, Osma and anthos, translating to ‘fragrant flower’.
You may also know the Osmanthus as the sweet olive (see also Osmanthus Types And Plant Care), the fragrant olive, or the tea olive.
The Symbolism Behind the Osmanthus Flower
The meaning attached to these petite but strongly-scented flowers can depend on the color of the flower, as most flower symbolism does, but there are a few associations which are linked to the flower regardless of its color.
Osmanthus is a very positive flower, symbolically speaking, representing tranquility, commitment, romance, and because of the abundance of the tiny flowers, it also represents fertility.
If you plan on sending a message using osmanthus flowers, when given as a gift they represent good will, a wish for the recipient to have good luck, to prosper, and to be protected from bad luck, or anyone who might mean them harm.
White Osmanthus Flower Meaning
Traditionally, white osmanthus flowers played an important part in weddings.
The bride would gift her new family white flowers from the osmanthus tree, which symbolizes dedication, romance, a new chapter of life filled with tranquility, and the intention to grow the family.
It also carries the significance of most white flowers, which include grace, faithfulness, spirituality, and a noble character.
Yellow Osmanthus Flower Symbolism
Yellow osmanthus flowers represent non-romantic affection which is no less meaningful, optimism, happiness, and a period of contentment.
Orange Osmanthus Flower Significance
Orange osmanthus signify bravery, exciting new opportunities or optimism for the future, and traits that you admire in someone, those which make them unique.
Cultural Symbolism of the Osmanthus Flower
In its native China, the osmanthus plant has a lot of significance, as well as many uses, and this has been the case for thousands of years.
Chinese legend tells that the osmanthus plant grew on the moon before it came to earth. It was only introduced to earth when a plague took hold, and the flowers were made into a wine to cure it.
In another Chinese myth, the osmanthus also grew on the moon, and Wu Gang was tasked with cutting it down as punishment, where it healed the instant he cut it.
Why he was punished varies from version to version, but this tale has existed since the Tang dynasty, if not earlier.
In honor of this myth, there is a saying which translates as “Wu Gang chopping the tree”, which refers to any hard work which is rendered useless, or which doesn’t end, once started.
Every September, there is a festival called the Chinese Moon Festival, or the Osmanthus Festival, always held on the full moon, where the flower holds a lot of significance as it typically blooms at the same time.
The heavy scent of the osmanthus flower symbolizes prosperity, wealth, and good fortune.
Several treats are made from the plant, including osmanthus cake, sweets, and osmanthus wine. The wine itself is symbolic of family reunions.
Outside of this festival, the flowers are also used to flavor tea and rice wine.
In art, the osmanthus flowers represent longevity, and a desire for a family to be as large as possible.
Osmanthus plants play an important role in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s usually incorporated into a black or green tea, where it is taken to improve skin health, to help detoxify the body overall, and to treat throat complaints.
The bark taken from the stems of the plant is an ingredient used to treat carbuncles and skin complaints. The roots soothe bruising and rheumatism.
The flowers are also used to add its powerful fragrance to cosmetics. The plant also has some antioxidant properties.
What Does an Osmanthus Flower Tattoo Mean?
When chosen as a subject for a tattoo, osmanthus flowers signify family ties, love, romantic relationships, and good luck.
Why Grow Osmanthus Flowers?
The osmanthus plant works both as a shrub and as a tree, and in the autumn months, it will treat your garden to a spectacular display of color, as well as blanketing your garden in the most sensational of fragrances.
As it is an evergreen, the osmanthus gives structure and color to your garden all year round, but it really does come into its own just as most of the flowers are dying off, injecting your garden with a lot of life during the leaner gardening months.
It also helps that you can also use the flowers as part of a cutting garden, filling your home with perfume and color, as well as making the perfect gift for someone.
When Should You Give Someone Osmanthus Flowers?
Osmanthus flowers are perfect when you want to celebrate someone’s achievements, or life goals.
This is especially true of marriage, where the osmanthus flower holds a lot of traditional symbolism, but it’s not the only reason why you would give someone this beautiful, fragrant flower.
Osmanthus flowers are perfect when you want to give someone some encouragement, and to express your well-wishes, and this can be particularly uplifting during a tricky time, with the heavy fragrance reminding them that you’re thinking about them.