Slow-growing native evergreen tree can grow up to 36′ tall but can be easily maintained as a shrub with judicious pruning. Cream colored flowers perfume the air in late winter and early spring. I have not been able to find information on which insects pollinate it, but the flowers are colorful and fragrant so they are clearly insect pollinated. The male and female flowers are borne on separate trees and the female trees produce abundant blue/black fruit, so some insects are very busy pollinating them. The olive-shaped fruit ripens the following winter/spring. Birds and small mammals love them. (I have never read anything about their edibility but I have eaten them several times.. not as bad as an olive straight off the tree but definitely not sweet)
Native to VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, MS, LA, TX and southward into Oaxaca and Veracruz, Mexico. It has been cultivated farther north and inland for decades and is reported to be hardy to zone 6. Many sources claim that it prefers moist sites. This is not consistent with my observations. In the sea islands, I normally see it in very well drained sites. Plant in sun or part shades. Tolerates salt wind, infrequent salt flooding and high calcium soils. In containers it grows best in sand/peat mixture with sub-irrigation. Relatively deer-resistant. If deer pressures are excessive, interplant it with one of our deer baffles. We propagated our plants from native populations in Beaufort County, SC.
About the names. The species has recently been reclassified from Osmanthus americanus to Cartrema americana. The wood is difficult to work hence “Devilwood”. It is in the same family as the olive of commerce, and the fruit is olive-shaped hence “Wild Olive” or “American Olive”. I have never found record of people consuming them as olives but I have picked and eaten them straight off the tree several times. They taste better straight off the tree than real olives, but they are definitely not sweet. If anyone does find records about their edibility fresh or cured, please share it with me.
There are a few larger plants available for pickup at the nursery or local delivery.