Olea europaea L.
Common Name: Olive.
Related Species: Wild Olive (Olea africana), Oleaster (O. europaea var. oleaster).
Distant Affinity: American Olive (Osmanthus americana), Fragrant Olive (O. fragrans).
Origin: The olive is native to the Mediterranean region, tropical and central Asia and various parts of Africa. The olive has a history almost as long as that of Western civilization, its development being one of civilized man's first accomplishments. At a site in Spain, carbon-dating has shown olive seed found there to be eight thousand years old. O. europaea may have been cultivated independently in two places, Crete and Syria. Archeological evidence suggest that olives were being grown in Crete as long ago as 2,500 B.C. From Crete and Syria olives spread to Greece, Rome and other parts of the Mediterranean area. Olives are also grown commercially in California, Australia and South Africa. There is some disagreement over when the trees first appeared in California. Some say they were introduced in 1769 when seeds brought from Mexico were planted. Others site the date 1785 when trees were brought in to make olive oil.
Adaptation: The olive requires a long, hot growing season to properly ripen the fruit, no late spring frosts to kill the blossoms and sufficient winter chill to insure fruit set. Home grown olives generally fruit satisfactorily in the warmer coastal valleys of California. Virtually all U.S. commercial olive production is concentrated in California's Central Valley, with a small pocket of olive acreage outside Phoenix. The tree may be grown as an ornamental where winter temperatures do not drop below 12° F. Green fruit is damaged at about 28°, but ripe fruit will withstand somewhat lower temperatures. Hot, dry winds may be harmful during the period when the flowers are open and the young fruits are setting. The trees survive and fruit well even with considerable neglect. Olives can also be grown in a large container, and has even appeared in shows as a bonsai.
Growth Habits: The olive is an evergreen tree growing to 50 ft. in height with a spread of about 30 ft. The tree can be kept to about 20 ft. with regular pruning. The graceful, billowing appearance of the olive tree can be rather attractive. In an all-green garden its grayish foliage serves as an interesting accent. The attractive, gnarled branching pattern is also quite distinctive. Olives are long-lived with a life expectancy of 500 years. The trees are also tenacious, easily sprouting back even when chopped to the ground.
Foliage: The olive's feather-shaped leaves grow opposite one another. Their skin is rich in tannin, giving the mature leaf its gray-green appearance. The leaves are replaced every two or three years, leaf-fall usually occurring at the same time new growth appears in the spring.
Flowers: The small, fragrant, cream-colored olive flowers are largely hidden by the evergreen leaves and grow on a long stem arising from the leaf axils. The olive produces two kinds of flowers: a perfect flower containing both male and female parts, and a staminate flower with stamens only. The flowers are largely wind pollinated with most olive varieties being self-pollinating, although fruit set is usually improved by cross pollination with other varieties. There are self-incompatible varieties that do not set fruit without other varieties nearby, and there are varieties that are incompatible with certain others. Incompatibility can also occur for environmental reasons such as high temperatures.
Fruit: The olive fruit is a green drupe, becoming generally blackish-purple when fully ripe. A few varieties are green when ripe and some turn a shade of copper brown. The cultivars vary considerably in size, shape, oil-content and flavor. The shapes range from almost round to oval or elongated with pointed ends. Raw olives contain an alkaloid that makes them bitter and unpalatable. A few varieties are sweet enough to be eaten after sun drying. Thinning the crop will give larger fruit size. This should be done as soon as possible after fruit set. Thin until remaining fruit average about 2 or 3 per foot of twig. The trees reach bearing age in about 4 years.. www.agronomic.mihanblog.com