Originating in what is now Turkey, olives spread throughout the Mediterranean approximately 6000 years ago. Olive trees have been a part of everyday life in the area since the beginning of civilization. The many resources that the olive tree has to offer cannot be understated. It is believed to have contributed to the rise and power of the ancient Greek and Roman empires. Also known as the ‘tree of eternity.'
With thousands of years of evolution the olive tree has adapted to cope with extreme conditions. These include drought, fire, poor soils and even very low temperatures for short periods. Olive trees can live for many years and carbon dating has revealed some to be over a thousand years old. One of the oldest living olive trees in the world grows in Crete and is estimated to be more than 3000 years old. It has been growing and bearing fruit since Biblical times and has been declared a national monument. The olives produced are highly prized and a wreath made from its branches travels to the opening ceremony of each Olympic Games since the Athens games in 2004.
Alongside the natural evolutionary process, the selection/breeding by mankind has produced several hundred cultivars of different form and habit. Olive trees are now grown in many parts of the world from as far afield as the USA and New Zealand, with many varieties being suitable for growing in the UK. It is in the countries around the Mediterranean however, where the olive tree flourishes. It is the single most important economic plant in this region. With around 750 million trees in cultivation, no wonder the olive tree is the quintessential symbol of the Mediterranean landscape.