One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1In early use: either of two evergreen shrubs, native to southern Europe, having dark green privet-like leaves and inconspicuous, greenish-white, scented flowers in axillary clusters, Phillyrea latifolia and P. angustifolia. Later also: (in form Phillyrea) the genus (family Oleaceae) comprising these shrubs; (also phillyrea) any member of this genus.
2"Cape phillyrea": the South African evergreen shrub Cassine capensis (family Celastraceae). rare.
Late 16th century; earliest use found in John Gerard (c1545–1612), herbalist. From post-classical Latin phillyrea from Hellenistic Greek ϕιλυρέα (Theophrastus) from ancient Greek ϕιλύρα lime tree, of unknown origin + -εα, feminine of -εος, suffix forming adjectives.
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