Pittosporum tobira - Commonly known as Japanese Pittosporum, this evergreen landscaping plant has been used for hedges, specimens, and foundation plantings for over a century. Fragrant flowers resemble orange blossoms. Very tolerant of pruning with relative ease of maintenance. Native to Japan, Korea and China. Can be found throughout Florida, the southeast U.S., Texas over to California. Known in Australia and the Mediterranean to Zone 8.
Size/Habit/Lifetime: Evergreen shrub to small tree. Often trimmed down to 3′-4′. Common size 8-10′ with equal or greater spread. Can be found as a statuesque specimen of 20-25′ tall. Dense and compact, spreading to a full canopy if untrimmed at maturity. Many cultivars are available, mostly dwarf or compact varieties.
Culture: Zones 8-10. Some varieties are suitable to Zone 7B. Full sun to partial shade. Vary adaptable to soils clay or sand, preferably well-drained. Good heat, drought and salt tolerance. Easily transplanted from container.
Leaf/Stem: Leaves dark, lustrous green above, lighter beneath. Spirally arranged, clustered at tips of branches. Leaf shape obovate, each to 4″ long. Young stems green turning to light brown.
‘Variegata’ is most common variety in the landscape trade. Leaf edges are cream-white with grayish-green centers. Not as cold hardy as parent variety.
‘Wheeler’s Compact’ and ‘Compacta’ have smaller leaf size and compact, mounding habit 3-4′ at maturity.
Flower/Fruit: White flowers, perfect, 5-petaled, becoming yellow with age. Very fragrant and sweet-scented. Fruit a capsule, pear-shaped, 1/2″ in diameter. Light green turning to brown. Fruit can be troublesome near walkways with sticky dropping from opened fruit capsules.
Use: A shrub for every occasion. Used well in mass or layered plantings. Contrasting the green and variegated species can offer low maintenance evergreen color. Compact varieties can fill in fussy nooks and crannies. Full sized varieties can be pruned to a barrier hedge, set in groves or left as a specimen.
Notable Facts: The genus Pittosporum is home to about 200 species in the Pittosporaceae family. P. undulatum (Sweet pittosporum, Mock Orange) and P. tenuifolium (Kohuhu, Black Matipo) are similar, but less dense with undulating leaf margins and can be very invasive in parts of Australia and the tropics.
James Wheeler is a recent graduate of Landscape Architecture and Botany at the University of Florida and a contributing writer to Landscape Invocation.