Olea europaea

Relatives: Lilac, privet, jasmine

The Olive is a native of the Mediterranean region, as well as tropical and central Asia and various parts of Africa. Its use and cultivation have a very long history and include cultivation in both Crete and Syria, for its fruit, and its oil...the former for food and the latter for lamp oil. Archaeological evidence has shown that Olives were being grown in and around Crete as early as 2500 BC. Historically speaking, Olive leaves were associated with peace, mostly from the book of Genesis (8:11) where a dove returns with an Olive branch in its beak after God had made peace with man and stopped the flood. The trees growing in the Garden of Gethsemane were olives, probably being cultivated for their oil. Some Olive trees are almost 1000 years old! Today, they are being commercially grown in Australia, New Zealand, California and Israel.


An evergreen tree, often with a single trunk but sometimes found with several, up to 50 feet if never pruned. The branches are often sweeping and graceful in shape. As it ages, they become more twisted and gnarled. Olives grow very fast when young, but as they age, they slow down. Supplying water while they are young and still growing helps them grow faster and bear sooner, often in as little as two years.
Leaves: Mid green above, silvery grey-green beneath, narrow, pointed, opposite with a smooth margin. Leathery textured, they live for two years, then fall off in the spring as they are replaced by new leaves.
Flowers: Small, fragrant and inconspicuous, they are born on one year old wood. Many flowers are formed each spring but only a fraction ever set any fruit. Pollination seems to be mostly by the wind, but bees might help.
Fruit:A green, roundish-oval drupe, which becomes purplish or black when fully ripe, although some cultivars are green when ripe, others brownish.


Olive trees survive and fruit well, and grow in a tremendous range of soils and environments. We'd rate them very easy to grow, depending (as stated earlier) on how low your winter temperatures drop down to.  (The Arbequina Olive is hardy down to about 22 degrees F.  We have a Arbequina growing in a large container here at the Nursery that is too heavy to move.  So we created a movable tripod over the Olive and its pot and covered it pot and all with a quilt and a piece of plastic to keep the quilt dry.)  Full sun, for sure, enjoying hot, dry summers with some winter chill.


There are upwards of 700 (documented!) different cultivars of Olives.