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An evergreen shrub reaching 6 to 20 ft in height; branches spreading, stiff, downy when young. They are densely clothed with stiff leathery leaves that are dark glossy green above, dotted with tiny dark spots beneath, ovate or oval, tapered about equally at both ends, toothed, 1⁄2 to 1 in. long, half as wide, shortly stalked. Flowers fragrant, pure white, in terminal and axillary clusters of four to eight; corolla with a cylindrical tube 1⁄2 in. long, spreading at the mouth into four reflexed oblong lobes, and about 1⁄2 in. across. Fruits roundish egg-shaped, blue-black. Bot. Mag., t. 8459.
Native of Yunnan and Szechwan, China. It was introduced by seeds sent to Maurice de Vilmorin by the Abbé Delavay in 1890. These were distributed to several gardens, but only one germinated, at the School of Arboriculture of the City of Paris (Frut. Vilm., p. 185). By grafting on privet and phillyrea a commercial stock was soon built up and the species appeared in several French nursery catalogues in 1911. Three years later it received an Award of Merit when shown by Vicary Gibbs from Aldenham. It was later reintroduced to Britain by Forrest.
This charming shrub is very distinct from the well known O. heterophyllus in having terminal as well as axillary flower clusters that open in April; in the long tubed corolla; and in the small leaves. It has proved itself to be one of the most beautiful of white flowered evergreens. In most parts of the country, one sees it every April almost hidden by its wealth of scented blossoms.
South of London O. delavayi will attain a height of about 10 ft, and more than that in width. In some Cornish gardens it is slightly over 20 ft high. Fertile fruits have been borne in several gardens and self-sown seedlings occur at Werrington Park in Cornwall.