Olea europaea Linn. Oleaceae. Olive.
Mediterranean region. The olive has been in cultivation from the earliest periods of history. It is found wild in Syria, Greece and Africa and even in Spain but whether truly indigenous or escaped from cultivation is in doubt. The olive belongs to the fruits which were promised to the Jews in Canaan. Homer mentions green olives in the garden of Alcinous and Laertes, which were brought by Cecrops, the founder of Athens, to Greece. The cultivated tree was distinguished from the wild tree by Dioscorides. This tree was first brought to Italy, says Unger, 571 B. C. and, at the time of Pliny, had been carried over the Alps to Gaul and Spain. At the time of Cato, the Romans were acquainted with only 9 kinds of olives, in the time of Pliny with 12 and at the present time with 20. Humboldt says that, under the reign of Tarquin the Elder, this tree did not exist in Italy, in Spain or in Africa. Under the Consulate of Appius Claudius, the olive was still very rare in Rome, but, at the time of Pliny, the olive had already passed into France and Spain. It is said by others, however, that the olive was brought to France by the Phocian colony which inhabited Marseilles, 680 B. C. It is now extensively cultivated in Italy, southern France, Spain, Portugal, northern Africa, western Asia and Australia, and, of late years, its culture seems to be making rapid progress in southern California.
In 1560, three plants were carried to Lima, Peru, one of these was stolen and carried to Chile and from this origin nourishing plantations became established.
In 1755, the olive was introduced into South Carolina and, in 1785, it is reported as successfully grown. In this year, also, the South Carolina Society imported cuttings of olives. In 1833, two varieties were introduced at Beaufort, South Carolina, and are said to have succeeded fairly well. In 1869 and 1871, mention is made of the fruiting of olives at this place. In 1760, the olive was introduced into Florida by a colony of Greeks and Minorcans who founded New Smyrna, and about 1760 Anastasia Island, opposite St. Augustine, was remarkable for its fine olive trees. In 1867, fine crops were gathered in gardens in St. Augustine. On Cumberland Island, Georgia, a number of trees bore abundantly for many years prior to 1835 and, in 1825 at Darien, some 200 trees were planted. In 1854, olive trees were under cultivation in Louisiana, and Jefferys, 1760, speaks of olive trees there yielding palatable fruit and excellent oil but he may have referred to the wild olive, O. americana. In 1817, an attempt by a colony to cultivate the olive in Alabama was made, a grant of land being given conditionally on success, but the enterprise was not prosecuted and fell through. In California, the olive is said to have been planted in 1700.
The use of the fruit for the expression of an oil and for pickling is very extensive, and these products are largely an object of export from southern Europe. In Cephalonia, according to Mrs. Brassey, the press cake is used by the peasants as a staple diet.