Olive Tree Symbolism And History

History of Olive Trees

One of the most well-known trees in the world is the olive tree. Olives are deliciously tasty and go with a lot of different dishes. When you pick up a pack of olives in a store, you don’t give its history much thought, but the olive tree is one of the most symbolic and historic trees to ever grace the earth. And here is why.

The History of the Olive Tree

Originating in what we now know as the Mediterranean, history suggests that the olive tree is one of the longest grown trees on earth. Olive trees are part of the evergreen family and have been being grown before written language was created – so a very long time ago!

As well as originally being found in the Mediterranean, the olive tree is also native to parts of Asia and Africa.

Greek tradition

It is a tradition in Greece, that when a child is born into a family, an olive tree is planted. The idea is that as the child grows, so will the olive tree. Ultimately the olive tree outlives the child and serves as a reminder of evolution and the circle of life.

The myth says that thousands of years ago, olives fell from olive trees into saltwater on the banks of the Mediterranean, where they were then discovered and eaten. Today, olives from the olive tree, are a popular delicacy across the world.

Olives growing on a tree
Olives growing on a tree in the evening light

Olive Oil

Olives have also been used historically and recently for the extraction of olive oil. Olive oil has a variety of uses, from being used for culinary purposes to being used for beauty purposes. It is also often used in religious ceremonies.

Interestingly, in France and parts of Italy and Spain, the olive tree is protected by the law. This is because old olive trees often die if they are shipped or transported so they are illegal to purchase.

Characteristics of the Olive Tree

Olive trees are an easy tree to grow due to their strength. They can withstand a variety of awful weather conditions from temperatures as low as 14 Fahrenheit to surviving both frosts and drought.

Olive trees have a complex root system, with lots of widespread roots. Amazingly, these roots can replenish and repair themselves even if the actual tree itself is destroyed. In 1985, a bad frost destroyed many a lot of olive trees in Tuscany. However, months later they became fruit bearing trees once again.

Olives from the olive tree cannot be eaten just straight from the tree, they need to be prepared either by being fermented, cured with oil, or brined in saltwater or vinegar. Eating olives has been proven to have numerous health benefits, one being that they are packed full of vitamin E.

Home Grown

Growing your own olive tree is actually surprisingly easy. If you live in growing zones 8 – 11 then you will be able to grow an olive tree outdoors, but even if you do not all you need is a sunny window if you wish to grow indoors. 

Growing Olive Trees

If you are wanting to grow indoors, it is recommended that you plant your olive tree in a pot. This is so that it can be outside during the warmer seasons but when the temperature starts to drop, you can bring it indoors. When outdoors, it needs to be in a sunlit area, preferably facing the sun. If you live in Arizona, then you are in luck as the olive tree can thrive outdoors in Arizona.

The olive tree is quite easy to plant. Transfer your olive tree into a container that is bigger than the container it came in. This is not essential to do right away but olive trees grow better when they have a significant amount of room to grow. It is also important to make sure the container has drainage holes for watering as you do not want to drown your tree.

Olive Tree Farm
Olive trees on a farm in rows

Watering Olive Trees

Speaking of watering, olive trees usually will need to be watered about once or twice a week. However, some olive trees will need to be watered a lot less than this. During the main growing season, they will also need liquid feed every two weeks. You should be able to get this from any major DIY/garden store or online.

Olive trees are quite slow-growing trees. Some olive trees will begin to bear fruit about three to five years after you have planted them. However, some varieties of olive trees can take up to twelve years or even longer to fruit. How long this takes depends on the variety of olive tree, growing conditions, and a variety of other factors. This is important to look into if you are considering buying an olive tree.


When it comes to pruning, you do not really need to worry. Just give your olive tree a trim when needed and you are good to go.

Overall, olive trees are relatively easy to care for and often live for hundreds of years, as shown throughout history. Plus, you get the benefit of having tasty olives quite literally on your porch.

A peace offering

The symbolism of the olive tree has been deep rooted for many years. As you may already know, in the bible, the olive tree represents peace, when a dove brought an olive branch to Noah. This is where the phrase “extend an olive branch” comes from as it represents making peace after an argument or disagreement. Even to this day, this imagery is still used.

However, historically the olive tree symbolizes much more than peace. They are also an emblem of harmony, knowledge, fruitfulness, wealth, health, good luck, and victory. So, there is no surprise that they are the most praised and prized tree in Greece.

In Ancient Greek mythology, the olive tree originated when Athena gifted an olive tree during a contest between herself and Poseidon. Athens was ultimately named after her and the olive tree has been respected by the Greeks as a symbol of victory ever since. Throughout history the olive tree has been a symbol of interest, its oils and myths are fascinating to learn.

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