Talk of olive trees in South Florida and people tend to think of the Black Olive, Terminalia buceras, a tree in the family Combretaceae, the White Mangrove family. Naturally found in the Caribbean, Central America, and Northern South America, there is some public confusion over its identity as the cultivated edible olive species. It ain’t. It’s doubtlessly called Black Olive due to the similiarity in the appearance and staining properties of the ripe fruit.
To see a real olive tree, visit Pinecrest Gardens, where a 125 year old specimen has been planted in one of the dry garden areas. With its silvery leaves and thick, gnarled trunk, it looks just like the individuals that one might encounter on a Greek island, the Andalusian countryside, or a Lebanese mountain.
|Olive at Pinecrest Gardens|
The Common Olive, or just plain Olive, Olea europaea var. europaea, is a tree that originated in the Mediterranean Basin region. It’s one of many members of the family Oleaceae, the Olive family, but the only species that is widely grown for its fruit. The Olive is an ancient cultivated crop that was domesticated from the wild Oleaster, Olea europaea var. sylvestris, about 6000 years ago; the earliest evidence of olive use is 19,000 years ago from an archeological site in Northern Israel. To be edible, olive fruit must be fermented (pickled) by allowing the natural bacterial community found on their skins to grow, or by processing them with lye.
|Old Olives near Chalkio, Greece|
Olives are mostly grown for oil production. Established groves having productive trees are often hundreds of years old. The species also has fine, durable wood that is rot-resistant and excellent for carving.
|Olives develop heavily gnarled trunks|
Olives were brought to the New World by the Spanish. In Florida, olives were planted at St. Augustine and New Smyrna Beach. Currently, the University of Florida is encouraging commercial planting in the central and northern parts of the state, where cooler winters make fruiting possible. Olives do best in Mediterranean-type climates, where Winters are mild and moist and Summers are long, hot, and dry. They are an adaptable species but require full sun, perfect drainage, and no irrigation once established.