The olive tree — Hawaii’s Most Invasive Horticultural Plant

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Evidence of olive cultivation goes back at least 5,000 years beginning in areas around Palestine, Syria and Crete. References to olive trees, their fruit and olive oil can be found in the Bible and the Quran as well as in ancient Greek and Roman records. The Olive Tree of Vouves, on Crete, is estimated to be more than 3,000 years old and it continues to produce olives that are, needless to say, highly prized. Olive trees planted today are likely to live longer than any of us.

Olives arrived in California from Spain with the Franciscan monks and were cultivated in and around their missions. Olives became an agricultural commodity in the U.S. as early as 1871 when an olive oil mill was established in Ventura, California. Don Francisco de Paula Marin introduced olives into Hawaii in 1827 and they became naturalized in several upland locations. Today they are an established crop in California and hold the potential as an agricultural crop for Hawaii.

Several olive varieties are available locally that hold production promise for Hawaii. Arbequina is from northern Spain and produces small fruit that presses into high quality oil. The tree is usually less than 20 feet tall and can start producing fruit within four years. The semi-dwarf cultivar Arbosana is also of Spanish origin with fruit similar to Arbequina that matures about three weeks later. It is a newer cultivar with a vigorous, bushy growth habit. It produces medium-sized fruit. Another Spanish variety, Manzanilla, produces mature olives early in the season.

All of these trees are attractive and can serve as crop plants as well as ornamentals. When considering growing olives for their fruit, it is important to know that they require close to two months of cold nights in order to produce flowers and fruit. Where temperatures dip below 55 degrees in winter, fruiting is more likely.

Olives are usually pollinated by wind. Hence, they need dry conditions during their summer bloom season, usually from April to June. Extreme heat during this time can negatively affect fruiting.

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