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Trees, Shrubs, Aloes, Grasses and Ground Covers.

Olea africana – African Olive

BOTANICAL: Olea Africana
COMMON NAME: African Olive; Wild Olive; Indian Olive
OTHER NAMES: Olienhout; Swartolienhout, Olyfboom (Afr); mohlware (Soho); umNqumo (Zulu); umNquma (Xhosa)

SA TREE NO: 617

FAMILY: Oleaceae (Olive famil;y) Belonging to the order Lamiales, with somewhat 24 genera and 615 species. These plants are native to temperate, forested regions, favouring in particular tropical Asia, but can be found worldwide, except for the Arctic, and can be trees, shrubs or woody climbers. Members of this family are prized for either their economical or aesthetic importance. The most eminent member of this family, and the namesake, is undoubtedly the Olive tree (Olea europaea), valued for its fruit and oil since ancient times. Other members include the Ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior), and the Jasmines (Jasminum).

BASIC OVERVIEW

One of the world’s oldest cultivated plants, Olea Africana is classed as a subspecies of the commercial olive, Olea Europea. It is a protected species in three provinces; Northern Cape, Free state and North West. With glossy, silver to almost golden foliage and splendid, eye-catching, dark-purple fruit, and bunches of pure white, dainty flowers, it will add life and beauty to any indigenous garden. Very versatile and adaptable. A neat, decorative, hardy tree and an asset in any wildlife garden.

  • HABITAT: Occurs in most parts of South-Africa, extending northwards towards Ethiopia. Most often encountered along water courses, on forest edges, in bushveld and even on rocky hillsides.

  • DECIDUOUS/EVERGREEN: Evergreen.

  • BARK: Rough, grey to dark-grey, often covered in numerous white spots (lenticels). The bark occasionally peels off in long strips and the main stem will often have a gnarled, twisted appearance. Older branches are sometimes smooth textured.

  • FOLIAGE: Dark -green, glossy above, with silvery to yellowish-green undersides and leathery texture, often covered in minute white scales. Leaves opposite, elliptic to oblong with a drooping habit, 7-17mm wide with sharply pointed tip and smooth margins. Each leaf grows for a period of about two years before being shed. They have fibrous edges when torn.

  • FLOWERS: Small, sweetly-scented white flowers often occurring in terminal or loose clusters during spring – summer (Oct – Feb).

  • FRUIT: A fleshy drupe, (10 x 8mm) ovoid, ripening to purple-black. Usually bitter-tasting. (Mar- Aug)

LANDSCAPING DETAILS

  • HEIGHT: Usually a medium-sized tree, 3-14m, occasionally reaching 18m.

  • SPREAD: Rounded, or dome shaped, dense spread. (5-10 m)

  • TOLERANCE: Resistant to drought, fire, wind and many common diseases. Tolerant to frost, and can withstand temperatures ranging between -5 and 40 degrees Celsius. Once established, it is virtually indestructible. The wood is quite rot-resistant too.

  • GROWTH RATE: Relatively fast growing when young (200-400mm per annum), but as it matures growth slows down. Can be remarkably long lived.

  • LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS: Prefers full sun but will tolerate semi-shade.

  • SOIL AND WATER REQUIREMENTS: Prefers a well-drained soil, with a coarser texture, such as sand. They can grow in low fertility soils, and have moderate water requirements.

  • ADVANTAGES: An asset on game reserves and farms due to nutritious leaves and shade providing abilities. Perfect for parks and large gardens. Helps to control erosion and makes a good firebreak. Excellent ornamental tree and wonderful as bonsai subject.

  • WARNINGS: Has an aggressive root system, so plant well away from buildings, pools and walls.

  • WILDLIFE: The fruit is enjoyed by birds, (Louries, starlings, pigeons mouse birds and more) monkeys, mongoose, and humans. The flowers attract bees, butterflies and insects, while the leaves make an excellent fodder for livestock.

  • PROPAGATION: Easily propagated from seed or hardwood cuttings. Treat cuttings with rooting hormones. Sow fresh seeds in river sand mixture and water well once a week. Young trees (usually under 5 years) respond best to pruning.

  • MEDICINAL: A tea is made from the dried leaves, which is said to help improve kidney function and alleviate urinary tract problems. Leaf extracts are used to treat eye infections, colic, sore throats and diarrhoea and fever, and have reputedly been used to treat Malaria by indigenous peoples. Commonly used to lower blood pressure as it increases coronary flow.

  • PRACTICAL: Juice from the ripe fruit has been used as an ink. The wood is strong, durable and very hard. Sapwood is usually pale yellow-brown, while the heartwood is beautifully reddish or golden brown with dark figuring and makes good quality furniture. Suitable for fence posts, (termite and borer resistant) ornaments, carving and popular in turnery. When burned, the wood is slightly sweet smelling and makes long-burning coals.

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