The Olive (Olea europaea) is a small evergreen tree that grows best in a Mediteranean climate. Spain, Italy, Greece, and other Mediterranean countries are major producers, but olives are also cultivated outside the Mediterranean region in regions with an appropriate climate (e.g., in in California and Argentina). The olive fruit has a skin, a fleshy pulp, and a stony kernel. As the fruit matures, it turns from green to black.
Some archaeological evidence suggests that the Olive may have been domesticated in the eastern Mediterranean region 10,000 years ago. Certainly, this species has been closely associated with human religious, cultural, medical, and food uses for thousands of years. As food, olives are used both for their edible pulp (which contains up to 40% or more oil, in contrast to the kernel, which contains only a small amount of oil) and as the source of olive oil. The oil is monounsaturated, with a high percentage of the fatty acid oleic acid. Olive oil is used as a cooking oil, in salad dressings, and as a food preservative; in some places, such as the United Kingdom, it is used in a spread. Olive oil is also used in cosmetics and in the pharmaceutical industry, among other applications. Olives are cold-pressed and the first pressings, which require no further treatment, are known as "virgin" ("extra virgin" olive oil is virgin oil that has a specified low acidity). The residue left after pressing (pomace) is used in animal feed.
Both green (immature) and black olives are pickled in brine. These olives contain less oil than those used for oil extraction. Prior to pickling, the bittter glycoside oleuropein is often neutralized with caustic soda or another lye solution. During processing, the olives may have their pits removed and sometimes replaced with pimentos, garlic (Allium sativum), or some other filling.
Olive pollen is one of the most important causes of seasonal respiratory allergy in Mediterranean countries. In addition, cases of contact dermatitis and food allergy to the olive fruit and olive oil have been described. (Rodriguez et al. 2001; Esteve et al. 2012)
The Olive Fruit Fly (Bactrocera oleae) is an important economic pest wherever olives are grown (Daane and Johnson 2010). The historical biogeography of this fly, and its evolving relationship with O. europea, have been investigated by Nardi et al. (2010).
Feral Olive trees are significant weeds in Hawaii, Norfolk Island, and Australia (Spenneman and Allen 2000; Cuneo et al. 2010).
(Vaughan and Geissler 1997)
- Cuneo, P., C.A. Offord, and M.R. Leishman. 2010. Seed ecology of the invasive woody plant African Olive (Olea europaea subsp cuspidata): implications for management and restoration. Australian Journal of Botany 58(5): 342-348.
- Daane, K.M. and M.W. Johnson. 2010. Olive fruit fly: managing an ancient pest in modern times. Annual Review of Entomology 55: 151-169.
- Esteve, C., C. Montealegre, M.L. Marina, and M.C. Garcia. 2012. Analysis of Olive allergens. Talanta 92: 1-14.
- Nardi, F., A. Carapelli, J.L. Boore, G.K. Roderick, R. Dallai, and F. Frati. 2010. Domestication of olive fly through a multi-regional host shift to cultivated olives: Comparative dating using complete mitochondrial genomes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 57(2): 678-686.
- Rodriguez, R., M. Villalba, R.I Monsalve, and E. Batanero. 2001. International Archives of Allergy and Immunology 125 (3): 185-195.
- Spennemann, D.H.R. and L.R. Allen. 2000. Feral olives (Olea europaea) as future woody weeds in Australia: a review. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 40 (6): 889-901.
- Vaughan, J.G. and C.A. Geissler. 1997. The New Oxford Book of Food Plants (revised and updated edition). Oxford University Press, New York.
Derivation of specific name
Distribution in Egypt
Mountainous Southern Sinai (St.Katherine), Isthmic Desert, North Sinai.
Localities documented in Tropicos sources
United States (North America)
Bolivia (South America)
El Salvador (Mesoamerica)
Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
- Killeen, T. J., E. García Estigarribia & S. G. Beck. (eds.) 1993. Guia Arb. Bolivia 1–958. Herbario Nacional de Bolivia & Missouri Botanical Garden, La Paz. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1000017
- Anonymous. 1986. List-Based Rec., Soil Conserv. Serv., U.S.D.A. Database of the U.S.D.A., Beltsville. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1103
- Linares, J. L. 2003 . Listado comentado de los árboles nativos y cultivados en la república de El Salvador. Ceiba 44(2): 105–268. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1029566
- Flora of China Editorial Committee. 1996. Fl. China 15: 1–387. Science Press & Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Beijing & St. Louis. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1018515
- García-Mendoza, A. J. & J. Meave del Castillo. 2011. Divers. Florist. Oaxaca 1–351. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/100009052
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Habitat & Distribution
Life History and Behavior
Evolution and Systematics
Leaves of olive trees optimize sunlight by changing shape and being flexible to changing conditions.
"1. Canopy plasticity, the expression of different leaf phenotypes within the crown of an individual tree has complex functional and evolutionary implications that remain to be thoroughly assessed. We hypothesized that it can lead to disparity in how leaves in different positions of the canopy change with allometric growth and population genetic structure.
2. Leaf phenotypes of the inner and outer canopy were estimated using eight morphological and physiological characters…With these data, we investigated the extent to which leaf phenotypes change with plant size, genetic processes and in = response to environmental conditions inside and outside the canopy.
3. The size of trees measured in the field was clearly associated with the phenotype of sun [leaves] but not to that of shade leaves. The phenotype of sun leaves depended on both direct and diffuse light, while that of shade leaves was found to correlate only with diffuse radiation. Additionally, light availability inside the canopy was conditioned by the shape of external leaves, and increasing
elongation of sun leaves led to higher radiation in the inner canopy.
4. The field phenotypes of both inner and outer canopy leaves were correlated with genetic variation among populations. Conversely, in the common garden, the different genotypes expressed a homogeneous sun phenotype, while phenotypic differences among populations remained apparent in shade leaves.
5. We conclude that, in agreement with our working hypothesis, canopy plasticity is both cause and consequence of the environment experienced by the plant and might lead to the differential expression of genetic polymorphisms among leaves. Furthermore, we propose that it can contribute to buffer abiotic stress and to the partition of light use within the tree crown." (de Casas et al. 2011:1)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
de Casas RR. 2011. It's good to have a shady side: sun and shade leaves play different roles in tree canopies.
- Vogle S. 2009. Leaves in the lowest and highest winds: temperature, force and shape. New Phytologist. 183: 13-26.
- Sack L; Melcher PJ; Liu WH; Middleton E; Pardee T. 2006. How strong is intracanopy leaf plasticity in temperate deciduous trees?. American Journal of Botany. 93(6): 829-839.
- Burns KC; Beaumont S. 2009. Scale-dependent trait correlations in a temperate tree community. Austral Ecology. 34: 670-677.
- de Casas RFR; Vargas P; Perez-Corona; Manrique E; Garcia-Verduga C; Balaguer L. 2011. Sun and shade leaves of Olea europaea respond differently to plant size, light availability and genetic variation. Functional Ecology , Accessed March 25, 2011.
Olive trees protect themselves from microbes using antimicrobial excretions.
"Other models for antimicrobial excretions include olive trees, biscuit roots, lichen, and fungal-tending ants." (Biomimicry Guild unpublished report)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Olea europaea subsp. europaea x O. europaea subsp. cuspidata
Barcode data: Olea europaea
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Olea europaea subsp. europaea x O. europaea subsp. cuspidata
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Olea europaea
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 13
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
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The olive (i// or i//, Olea europaea, meaning "Oil from/of Europe") is a species of small tree in the family Oleaceae, native to the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean Basin as well as the Levant, northern Saudi Arabia, northern Iraq, and northern Iran at the south of the Caspian Sea.
Its fruit, also called the olive, is of major agricultural importance in the Mediterranean region as the source of olive oil. The tree and its fruit give its name to the plant family, which also includes species such as lilacs, jasmine, Forsythia and the true ash trees (Fraxinus). The word derives from Latin olīva which is cognate with the Greek ἐλαία (elaía) and also Mycenaean Greek
Earlier introductions grew well in Pakistan but gave hardly any fruit, as most of the varieties are self-sterile and no proper pollinator was present. Recently different varieties have been planted together with some proper pollinators, and the results are quite satisfactory. There is hope now that the cultivation of the olive tree will spread all over the northern regions of Pakistan in the near future.