For alternate meanings see olive (disambiguation)
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Olea europaea (Olive), Lisboa, Portugal
Scientific classification

About 20, including:
Olea brachiata
Olea capensis
Olea caudatilimba
Olea europaea
Olea exasperata
Olea guangxiensis
Olea hainanensis
Olea laxiflora
Olea neriifolia
Olea paniculata
Olea parvilimba
Olea rosea
Olea salicifolia
Olea tetragonoclada
Olea tsoongii
Olea undulata



The olives (Olea) are a genus of about 20 species of small trees in the family Oleaceae, very widely scattered across the Old World, from the basin of the Mediterranean Sea, southern Africa, southeast Asia north to southern China, New Caledonia and eastern Australia. They are evergreen, with small, entire leaves arranged oppositely. The fruit is a drupe.

By far the most widely known species is the European Olive, Olea europaea, which has been used since ancient times for the making of olive oil and for eating of the fruit. (which, being bitter in its natural state, must be subjected to natural fermentation or "cured" with lye or brine to be made edible).

The wild olive is a small tree or bush of rather straggling growth, with thorny branches and opposite oblong pointed leaves, dark grayish-green above and, in the young state, hoary beneath with whitish scales; the small white flowers, with four-cleft calyx and corolla, two stamens and bifid stigma, are borne generally on the last year's wood, in racemes springing from the axils of the leaves; the drupe (fruit) is small in the wild plant, and the fleshy pericarp, which gives the cultivated olive its economic value, is comparatively thin. Cultivated forms have wide variations in character, but are generally more compact, thornless, and more prolific.

It is not known when olives were first cultivated for harvest. The plant is a native of Syria and the maritime parts of Asia Minor, and there are frequent references in the Bible and the earliest poets to both the plant and its products. It is also thought to be indigenous in Greece. Olive trees shows a marked preference for calcareous soils and a partiality for the sea breeze, flourishing with especial luxuriance on the limestone slopes and crags that form the shores of the Greek peninsula and adjacent islands.


The varieties of olive known to the modern cultivator are extremely numerous. In Italy alone at least three hundred varieties have been enumerated, but only a few are grown to a large extent. The main Italian varieties are 'Leccino', 'Frantoio' and 'Carolea'. None of these can be safely identified with ancient descriptions, though it is not unlikely that some of the narrow-leaved sorts that are most esteemed may be descendants of the famed Licinian (see below). The broad-leaved olive trees of Portugal and Spain bear a larger fruit, but the pericarp has a more bitter flavor and the oil is of ranker quality. It is these Iberian olives that are usually cured and eaten, often after being pitted, stuffed (with pickled pimento, onion, or other garnishes) and jarred in fresh brine.

The olive tree, even when free increase is unchecked by pruning, is of very slow growth; but, where allowed to develop naturally over many years, the trunk sometimes attains a considerable diameter. De Candolle records one exceeding 10 metres (33 feet) in girth, the age being supposed to amount to seven centuries. Some old Italian olives have been credited with an antiquity reaching back to the first years of the empire, or even to the days of republican Rome; but the age of such ancient trees is always doubtful during growth, and their identity with old descriptions still more difficult to establish. The tree in cultivation rarely exceeds 15 meters (50 feet) in height, and in France and Italy is generally confined to much more limited dimensions by frequent pruning. The wood, of a yellow or light greenish-brown hue, is often finely veined with a darker tint, and, being very hard and close-grained, is valued by the cabinetmaker and ornament turner.

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Small Olive Tree
Large Olive Tree
Large Olive Tree
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Olive Tree Leaves
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Olive Tree Trunk
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Olive Flowers
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Vincent van Gogh - The Olive Trees (1889)

The olive is propagated in various ways, but cuttings or layers are generally preferred; the tree roots in favorable soil almost as easily as the willow, and throws up suckers from the stump when cut down. Branches of various thickness are cut into lengths of several feet each, and, planted rather deeply in manured ground, soon vegetate; shorter pieces are sometimes laid horizontally in shallow trenches, when, covered with a few inches of soil, they rapidly throw up sucker-like shoots. In Greece and the islands grafting the cultivated tree on the wild form is a common practice. In Italy embryonic buds, which form small swellings on the stems, are carefully excised and planted beneath the surface, where they grow readily, their uovoli soon forming a vigorous shoot.

Occasionally the larger boughs are marched, and young trees thus soon obtained. The olive is also sometimes raised from seed, the oily pericarp being first softened by slight rotting, or soaking in hot water or in an alkaline solution, to facilitate germination.

The olives in the East often receive little attention from the husbandman, the branches being allowed to grow freely and without curtailment by the pruning-knife; water, however, must be supplied in long droughts to ensure a crop; with this neglectful culture the trees bear abundantly only at intervals of three or four years; thus, although wild growth is favorable to the picturesque aspect of the plantation, it is not to be recommended on economic grounds. Where the olive is carefully cultivated, as in Languedoc and Provence, it is planted in rows at regular intervals, the distance between the trees varying in different olivettes, according to the variety grown. Careful pruning is practiced, the object being to preserve the flower-bearing shoots of the preceding year, while keeping the head of the tree low, so as to allow the easy gathering of the fruit; a dome or rounded form is generally the aim of the pruner.

The spaces between the trees are occasionally manured with rotten dung or other nitrogenous matter; in France woolen rags are in high esteem for this purpose. Various annual crops are sometimes raised between the rows, and in Calabria wheat even is grown in this way; but the trees are better without any intermediate cropping. Latterly a dwarf variety, very prolific and with green fruit, has come into favor in certain localities, especially in America, where it is said to have produced a crop two or three seasons after planting. The ordinary kinds do not become profitable to the grower until from five to seven years after the cuttings are placed in the olive-ground. Apart from occasional damage by weather or organic foes, the olive crop is somewhat precarious even with the most careful cultivation, and the large untended trees so often seen in Spain and Italy do not yield that certain income to the peasant proprietor that some authors have attributed to them; the crop from these old trees is often enormous, but they seldom bear well two years in succession, and in many instances a luxuriant harvest can only be reckoned upon every sixth or seventh season.

The ripe fruit is, by the careful grower, picked by hand and deposited in cloths or baskets for conveyance to the mill; but in many parts of Spain and Greece, and generally in Asia, the olives are beaten down by poles or by shaking the boughs, or even allowed to drop naturally, often lying on the ground until the convenience of the owner admits of their removal; much of the inferior oil owes its bad quality to the carelessness of the proprietor of the trees. In southern Europe the olive harvest is in the winter months, continuing for several weeks; but the time varies in each country, and also with the season and the kinds cultivated.

The amount of oil contained in the fruit differs much in the various sorts; the pericarp usually yields from 60 to 70%. The ancient agriculturists believed that the olive would not succeed if planted more than a few leagues from the sea (Theophrastus gives 300 stadia as the limit), but modern experience does not confirm the idea, and, though showing a preference for the coast, it has long been grown far inland. A calcareous soil, however dry or poor, seems best adapted to its healthy development, though the tree will grow in any light soil, and even on clay if well drained; but, as remarked by Pliny, the plant is more liable to disease on rich soils, and the oil is inferior to the produce of the poorer and more rocky ground the species naturally affects.

The olive suffers greatly in some years from the attacks of various enemies. A fungoid growth has at times infested the trees for several successive seasons, to the great damage of the plantations. A species of coccus, Pseudomonas savastanoi pv. savastanoi induces tumor growth in the shoots, and certain lepidopterous caterpillars feed on the leaves and flowers, while the main damage is made by the olive-fly attacks to the fruit. In France and north-central Italy the olivettes suffer occasionally from frost; in the early part of the 18th century many trees were cut to the ground by a winter of exceptional severity. Gales and long-continued rains during the gathering season also cause mischief.

The genus Olea includes several other species of some economic importance. O. paniculala is a larger tree, attaining a height of 15 or 18 meters (50 or 60 feet) in the forests of Queensland, and yielding a hard and tough timber. The yet harder wood of O. laurifolia, an inhabitant of Natal, is the black ironwood of the South African colonist.

See also

External links


ca:Olivera co:Aliva cy:Olewydden de:Olivenbaum eo:Oliv-arbo es:Olivo et:lipuu fr:Olivier (arbre) he:זית it:Olea ja:オリーブ nl:olijfboom nn:Oliventre pl:Oliwka (drzewo) pt:Oliveira sv:Olivtrd


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