Japanese Pittosporum

When I first moved to Houston it was like being in an alien landscape. Oaks, maples and pines were clearly oaks, maples and pines but the bark, the leaf shape even the structure of the plants was just slightly tweaked from those in New England.

So when I saw the pittsoporums I thought ‘Aren’t the azaleas different down here?’. And since it was May when I first arrived I patiently waited for the next spring to see what colors the flowers would be.

But of course there were no flowers and my azaleas were not azaleas but Pittsoporums, something we don’t have in New England. I saw some again in Hawaii and almost didn’t recognize them. The species common there grow about twice the size with leaves about three times the size of the ones in Houston.

There are many varieties of Pittosporum, be sure to do some research before purchasing one. Japanese (Mock Orange) is the most common. It is slow growing and will max out at ~3′ tall. Variegated is fast growing and can reach 15′ in full sun, 6′ in shade. Tarata (Eugenioides) will grow to 35′ in height.

This plant is heavily used by contractors and you’d be hard put to find a home in Houston that didn’t come with Pittsoporum installed in the landscape.

Flowers are small, white, and not really noticeable in the early spring except for the nice fragrance.

Leaves are thick and leathery. They grow in round patterns about the stem and are extremely densely packed. Plants remain evergreen.

It will grow in full sun to shade, and prefers slightly moist soil. It is drought tolerant once established, but will rot quickly in soils that are always wet. It prefers an acidic soil, but will usually tolerate a more basic soil. These are good along the coast since they do not mind salt spray.

They are very sensitive to root rot and fungus, and fungicides often cause the death of Pittsoaporum. If there is a fungus problem cut the effected area back at least 6″ below damage. All you can do is try to keep it happy and hope it fights it off on its own. I lost two during a wet, rainy spring.

I lost some of these during a rainy spring, the remaining ones during Ike.

Root rot in Pittsoporum

They are also sensitive to magnesium deficiency in our high pH soil in Houston. Leaves yellow at the edges when this happens. So fertilize lightly and often.

Plants grow rapidly when young, slowing as they reach mature size.

Watch for aphids and scale on the underside of the leaves. Mealy bugs may also attack this plant. Mites will be seen as fine webbing all over your plant.

This, and several other plants are also known as ‘mock oranges’. There are over 1,000 varieties in this species. They are native too Japan, China and Africa

Best time for transplanting these is very late spring or very late summer, just on the edges of the summer. Propagate by cuttings.

4 thoughts on “Japanese Pittosporum

  1. I grew up with pittsoaporum in my suburban San Antonio back yard as a kid. I haven’t seen one in a couple years being in Montana, but reading your post brought back the memory and the smell that is so tied to my childhood, running reckless through the backyard and squeezing the thick, soft leaves through my fingers. Funny a silly little plant like that could bring back those memories. Thanks for giving it a name for me.

  2. I don’t reall care for the look of pittosporum much. I have one planted in my garden only because a neighbor gave me a branch and told me to plant it. I did three years ago and it is now a healthy plant. I don’t have the heart to take it up.

    There is a dwarf variegated pittosporum, though, named Winter Frost, that I bought a couple of years ago and like very much. I have it in a container on my north facing patio. It gets about three hours sun and seems to be very healthy.

  3. I’ve seen the variegated, I haven’t tried to grow one yet. They are very nice looking.

    I lost three of them last year in all the spring rain. This year, there’s been so little rain the remaining one is doing great and one of the others is attempting to come back from its roots.

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