Frost-, drought- and wind-resistant, the wild olive has beautiful
wood for furniture, and is regarded as a small-fruited subspecies
of the commercial olive.
Olea europaea subsp. africana is a neatly shaped evergreen
tree with a dense spreading crown (9 x 12 m) of glossy grey-green
to dark-green foliage. Leaves are grey-green to dark-green above
and greyish below. The rough, grey bark sometimes peels off in strips.
of tiny, lightly scented white to greenish flowers (October to February)
are followed (March to July) by small, spherical, thinly fleshy
fruits (either sweet or sour) which ripen purple-black.
This tree is found in a variety of habitats, often near water, e.g.
on rocky hillsides, on stream banks and in woodland (where it can
reach 12 m). It is widespread in Africa, Mascarene Islands, Arabia,
India to China.
The Latin name for olive is olea; europaea = from
Europe, and africana = from Africa. There are four species
of Olea in South Africa.
The fruits are popular with people, monkeys, baboons, mongooses,
bushpigs, warthogs and birds (e.g. redwinged and pied starlings,
Rameron pigeons, African green pigeons, Cape parrots and louries).
Leaves are browsed by game and stock. This tree is an asset on farms
and game farms, especially in very dry areas because it is extremely
hardy and is an excellent fodder tree.
Uses and cultural aspects
A tea can be made from the leaves. The hard, heavy and beautiful
golden-brown wood is used for furniture, ornaments, spoons and durable
fence posts. An ink is made from the juice of the fruit. Traditional
remedies prepared from this plant serve as eye lotions and tonics,
lower blood pressure, improve kidney function and deal with sore
throats. The early Cape settlers used the fruits to treat diarrhoea
Growing Olea europea subsp. africana
Propagate it from seed or from hardwood cuttings. Sow fresh seed
in river sand. Treat cuttings with a rooting hormone. The slow-growing
frost, drought and wind-resistant wild olive makes a good shade
or screen plant in the home garden, on golf courses and elsewhere.
It is popular for bonsai, street planting, and for use at schools,
office complexes, and in parks. It is perfect for dry areas where
it is an excellent fodder plant for stock and game and it has also
been used to stabilize erosion dongas/ditches.
Don't plant it too close to walls, patios or swimming pools, the
root system can sometimes be aggressive. Always add plenty of compost
to the planting area and apply a thick mulch layer (organic material,
like dried leaves) to protect the soil surface. Water moderately
throughout the year. This tree has a wide distribution in South
Africa and grows in both summer and winter rainfall areas. It also
occurs in very dry areas, and tolerates temperatures ranging from
about - 5°C to 40°C.
- COATES-PALGRAVE, K. 1988. Trees of southern Africa, edn
2. Struik, Cape Town.
- JOFFE, P. 2001. Creative gardening with indigenous plants-a
South African guide. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- PALMER, E. & PITMAN, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa.
Balkema, Cape Town.
- POOLEY, E. 1993. The complete guide to trees of Natal, Zululand
and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust.
- VAN WYK, B., VAN OUDTSHOORN, B. & GERICKE, N. 1997. Medicinal
plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- VAN WYK, B. & VAN WYK, P. 1997. Field guide to the trees
of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- VENTER, F. & VENTER, J. 1996. Making the most of indigenous
trees. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- WATT, J.M. & BREYER-BRANDWIJK, M.G. 1962. The medicinal
and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. Livingstone,
Pretoria National Botanical Garden