The original home of the olive is southwest Asia. For many centuries olives have provided food for people and have been carried by caravan to distant markets.
An unusual thing about the olive is that it cannot be eaten fresh from the tree. The bitter taste of the fruit must be removed by pickling, before the olive can be eaten.
Oil from olive trees was very important in trade between ancient peoples. Kings used to judge how wealthy they were by the number of jars filled with olive oil in their storerooms. On the tiny island of Crete the remains of storerooms for olive oil have been found that date back as far as 2000 BC.
Olive trees were planted in all the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. At one time even the bare desert regions of North Africa were covered with olive groves. It is said that once upon a time a person could travel from Mecca to Morocco in the shade of olive, date, and fig trees.
The Spaniards took olive seeds and cuttings to the New World. They planted them around their missions in California, where the trees thrived in the warm, dry climate.
Today olives are a major crop in California, which produces almost all the olives grown in the United States. But Spain and Italy are still leading olive-producing countries in the world, and California’s production is only 0.9 per cent of the world’s total.
Olive trees are grown either from seeds or from cuttings. A cutting is a stem or other part of the plant that will grow into a new tree if properly planted. An olive tree lives a long time. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, there are olive trees that have been alive for two thousand years, though they may not have the same trunks as originally. They were probably renewed by new shoots growing from their bases.
Published in: Gardening