Saturday, 28 February 2009 09:30

Wild Olive

Written by  Sue Oxborrow
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Where to find it:

The southern slopes of the Magaliesberg mountain range is where you should find the Olea Europaea  – from the rocky areas exposed to all the weather elements, in the kloofs, woodland and down to the river bank areas of the Magalies River. The Wild Olive generally grows singly within other groups of different tree species.

If you should be travelling in China, India, Arabia or on the Mascarene Islands, don’t be surprised to see the Wild Olive there too!

General description and features:

The Wild Olive grows as a single stemmed tree branching out quite low down on the trunk giving the tree an almost fan-like look with the branches “fanning” out from the lower part of the tree. It has a dense and round-shaped canopy. It can look a bit weather-worn and less dense if it is growing in very windy areas and would be a smaller size all round if growing in a more exposed area like an open rocky ridge. Being drought and wind resistant, frost tolerant and requiring little in the way of water, the Olea Europaea grows in full sun and is hardy enough to thrive in a variety of habitats.

The evergreen leaves of the Wild Olive are covered with pale greyish-green scales underneath while the top of the leaves are a shiny dark grey-green.  The sweetly scented creamy-white flowers show themselves from October through to February prior to the fruit that are berry shaped and become purple-black when ripened during their fruiting period of March to July.

The Wild Olive is a protected tree in the North West Province, the N6rthern Cape and Free State.

Trunk and Bark:

The bark is a smooth greyish-brown on the young branches and when the trees are more mature the bark becomes rough and vertically fissured, sometimes peeling off in strips or block-shaped pieces. If you look closely at the small twigs you will see small raised dots on the bark.

What people use this tree for:

Fortunately for humans, the wood is hard, dense and borer and termite resistant which means that people have used this tree for making furniture, carvings, kitchen utensils and fence posts on farms.

When people are ill they also use the Wild Olive leaves to make an infusion as an eye lotion for themselves as well as their cattle. The water-soaked leaves can be used as a substitute for tea. If we have a sore throat, we may want to make a gargle liquid out of an infusion of the leaves.

To stop nose bleeds, we would dry the leaves and make a snuff out of them. An infusion of the bark could be made to relieve our colic. As if this was not enough that the Wild Olive was giving us, we could write out these traditional indigenous remedies using ink that we have made from the juice of the berry fruit!

And, if you’re interested in the art of Bonsai, the Olea Europaea is a must.

The Wild Olive can also be a windbreak tree, provide shade and browsing for cattle and game and has been used to stabilize eroded areas due to its extensive and aggressive root system. 

The ‘provider’ for other creatures:

The Wild Olive berry fruit is a favourite for fruit-eating birds, so look out for the Grey Lourie, Speckled and Red-faced Mousebirds, Redwinged and Pied Starlings, Rameron and African Green Pigeon and the Blackeyed Bulbul. You may also see Vervet monkeys, Chacma baboon, mongoose and even warthog and bushpig feeding on the fruit in the tree or on the ground.

Game and stock animals also enjoy browsing on the leaves of this useful fodder tree. You will probably notice bees and butterflies making use of the pollen and nectar during the flowering season.

How to grow your own Olea Europaea:

An aggressive root system precludes this tree from being planted near to your house, pool or other buildings on your property. This is a very hardy tree – resists frost and drought. Young trees should be protected from cold wind for their first two years. Water the young trees well during their first year, and they will reward you with good growth. The average growth rate is approx 800mm per year,and the Wild Olive should be pruned each year to stimulate further growth. It will grow in most types of soil and does very well in alkaline soils.

Here’s how to grow your own…

Get fresh seeds as these will give you the best results – x1 kg holds approx 8,000 seeds!!

Fill black nursery bags with river sand and plant seeds, watering well. The seedlings will form a long taproot once germinated after about 12 days. Take care when transplanting into bigger bags or into the ground as the taproot is very delicate.

If seeds are not available, then you may want to try to grow from a hardwood cutting using a root-stimulating hormone powder available from nurseries.

(Tip: When ready to plant the sapling into the ground, position a 50mm size x 1m length of plastic piping vertically near to the sapling, leaving +- 5cm above ground level. When watering around the sapling, also pour water into this pipe, as it will encourage the roots to grow downwards looking for the moisture below. Keep the ground around the sapling well mulched with dry leaves etc to assist with water retention above ground.)

If you don’t find this tree on your property consider growing one!

Wouldn’t it be rewarding to contribute to maintaining the tree diversity within the Magaliesberg mountain range by planting an Olea Europaea?

The Committee is interested in hearing from members whether they have this tree growing on their property or whether they would like to plant one. 

What birds have you seen coming to this tree? 

Which butterflies or other insects have you noticed? 

Have the Vervet monkeys visited to eat the fruit?

 

References:

Fanie & Julye-Ann Venter. 1996. Making the Most of Indigenous Trees.

Joan van Gogh& John Anderson. 1988. Trees & Shrubs of the Witwatersrand,

Magaliesberg & Pilanesberg.

Val Thomas and Rina Grant. 1998. SAPPI Tree Spotting, Highveld & the Drakensberg.

Pitta Joffe. 2001. Creative Gardening with IndigenousPlants, A South African Guide.

 

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