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Olive trees, one of the oldest growing plants

Updated on February 22, 2014

A little history

Olives grow on slow-growing evergreen trees that thrive in Mediterranean type climate, (Zones 8-10). They are grown for commercial production in California, Australia and South Africa. Olives have been technically classified by the USDA as a fruit, although many think of it as a vegetable that adds a somewhat salty and zesty taste to salads, poultry, tuna and pizza.

Olive trees long history dates back 5000 to 6000 years and are considered by many as the “fruit of the Gods,” the main reason being that in ancient times and in many Mediterranean quarters now, olives are used as the symbol of peace, wisdom, power, glory, fertility and purity. Olive branches were used for purification and offered to powerful figures as a symbol for peace. Olive oil has long been considered sacred; it was used for the sacred lamps in the temples, and was used for the original “eternal flame” of the Olympic Games.

Old Olive tree
Old Olive tree | Source

California bound

Olives plants were first introduced to the United States in California by Spanish missionaries around 1795 for the production of olive oil. Today California is the only state to commercially produce olives with 50 percent used to produce California-style black olives and 46 percent pressed for oil.

California Olive Ranch

Olive tree grove
Olive tree grove | Source


Olive trees prefer soil that is fertile, heavy with lime. They will grow in any soil but will be predisposed to diseases like olive knot, verticillium wilt, mushroom root rot. The trees can be prone to lesion nematode and Southern blight, with scale insects being very common. They prefer full sun and hold up good in drought and high winds. During their growing season they need a balanced liquid fertilizer every month and can remain productive as long as they are pruned correctly and regularly.

Flowering olive tree
Flowering olive tree | Source

Slow but mighty

The slow growing olive tree can reach heights of 50 feet and a spread of 30 feet, over many years the trunk and branches usually becomes gnarled and irregular. The leaves are gray-green in color on top with silvery gray-green on the backside, they are leathery to the touch, grow opposite and are irregularly toothed in shape. Tiny, fragrant creamy white flowers open up in the summer, followed by their oval green fruit that can ripen to black. The color of the fruit depends on what variety of tree was planted as some green olives stay green while other varieties can start off green and then turned black and vice-a-verse-a, the color has nothing to do with the ripeness of the olive. Since olives are too bitter to eat right from the trees they can be picked in a unripened stage or in a fully ripened stage. They are then cured by one of three common methods; water curing, brine curing or lye curing, which affects the color and composition of the olives and give them their pleasant taste.

Ripe olives for the picking
Ripe olives for the picking | Source

Food for your heart

The nourishment from olives have been found to lower heart risk by decreasing ones blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and LDL:HDL ratio. Olives are also a good source of copper, iron, dietary fiber, and vitamin E.

California Olive Ranch

Years of growing has taken it toll on this olive tree.
Years of growing has taken it toll on this olive tree. | Source

Olive Facts

  • Olives are beaten or shaken off the trees with either a pole or a tree shaker machine.
  • 98% of the worlds olive oil supply comes from the Mediterranean area.
  • California is home to over 400 growers/producers of olive oil, they grow over 50 different kinds of olives.
  • Many Greek producers like to dry cure their olives production. A method by which the olives are covered with salt directly, the olives can be stored over a longer period of time.
  • Olives belong to a group of fruit that is know as “drupes” because of their pit or stone in the middle of the fleshy fruit.
  • It takes up to four years before olive trees can bear fruit.
  • The world record for the oldest olive tree stands at 2,000 years.

© 2014 galine


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    • galine profile image

      galine 3 years ago from Chicago

      Glad you found an answer to your question and thank you for reading.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Wonderful hub. I am fortunate to live in an area in Arizona where olive trees can be grown. I was wondering when they'll start to bear fruit, and your hub gave the straight answer. Looks like next year, we'll be able to get some olives!