Scientific Name: Pittosporum tobira
- Order: Apiales
- Family: Pittosporaceae
- Genus: Pittosporum
- Species: P. tobira
Native to Japan, China, and Korea, the Japanese cheesewood is also known as Japanese pittosporum, Australian laurel, and mock orange. The evergreen shrub has shiny dark green leaves that curl under at their edges and have lighter colored undersides. At the end of each branch, a cluster of five-petaled white flowers age into a cream or yellow color. The flowers give off a fragrant smell of citrus, hence the name “mock orange.”
These blossoms produce a large amount of nectar, which attracts insects and helps with the plant’s pollination. Despite its relatively plain appearance, Japanese cheesewood produces yellowish-orange fruit and red seeds, which contrasts with the light colored flowers. The genus name Pittosporum refers to the sticky substance inside the plant’s seed pod, because the Greek words “pitte” and “sporos” mean “tar” and “seed,” respectively.
As a dense shrub, Japanese cheesewood can shield a house from wind as well as provide privacy. However, a poisonous compound is found in pittosporum, called saponin, that is especially toxic to animals. In the past, tribal people would put cheesewood fruits into the water to bait fish, who would die after eating the poisonous fruits.