Olive Grove Oundle | Olive Tree & Mediterranean Plant Specialists

History of the Olive Tree | Olive Tree Origin

If you own an olive tree or are thinking about buying an olive tree, you may want to know a bit more about the history of the olive tree. You may also be interested to know a bit about the more mythical roots of the olive tree. Here we have put together a brief history of the olive tree.

History of the Olive Tree

Also known as the ‘tree of eternity’, the olive tree does indeed an ancient history. 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 civilisation. 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.

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.

Mythology of the Olive Tree

According to Greek mythology the olive tree was brought into being by the goddess Athena who won a contest with Poseidon god of the sea. The prize was the patronage of a great city and would be won by whoever presented the city with the best gift. Poseidon struck the ground with his mighty trident and created a sea which although impressive, was too salty to drink. Athena, in less dramatic style knelt and planted something in the ground which grew into an olive tree. This turned out to be a much more useful gift. The tree produced not only food but oil for lighting, and wood for heat and building.

Athena won the contest and consequently the great city was named in her honour – Athens. Even today, an olive tree stands where this legendary contest took place, and it is said that all the olive trees in Athens are descended from the olive tree grown by Athena.