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Title: Olive tree
Original Title: Olivier
Volume and Page: Vol. 11 (1765), pp. 451–452
Author: Unknown
Translator: Ann-Marie Thornton [Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link
Source: Russell, Terence M. and Anne Marie Thornton. Gardens and landscapes in the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D'Alembert : the letterpress articles and selected engravings. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999. Used with permission.

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Citation (MLA): "Olive tree." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2013. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Olivier," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 11. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): "Olive tree." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2013. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Olivier," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 11:451–452 (Paris, 1765).

Olive tree, Olea. A medium- grown evergreen which is native to the maritime and southern regions of Europe and may also be found in Africa and the warmest parts of South America. Olives are low-growing in France but form fine trees in Spain and Italy. The stem is short, gnarled, and of medium breadth: it grows many suckers from its base and produces a large number of spreading roots. The bark is smooth, even, and ashen. The leaves are hard, thick, and glossy, and are green-brown above and white beneath: they are longish according to the cultivar, and are opposite, entire, and without serrations. The tree flowers in May and June: the flowers appear in panicles and are of a grassy, somewhat yellowish colour. The fruit which replaces them is ovoid, succulent, more or less large, and longish according to the cultivar. Inside the fruit, there is a hard stone of the same shape divided into two valves, which never contain more than one seed even though there is room for two. The fruit ripens only at the end of autumn. Olives require hot climates: Provence and Languedoc are the only provinces of the kingdom in which they may be cultivated successfully for profit. Elsewhere, only a few collector’s trees may be grown in gardens. If they are grown as espaliers in light soil and against a well-exposed wall, they will usually subsist and yield a few olives in good years. However, in regions where olives are planted in the open ground, they must be grown in black soil, loam mixed with gravel, or wheat-growing land. Generally speaking, all good soil is suitable for olives provided that it is loose, light, and warm. Soil which is rich, clayey, and damp is unsuitable: olives grown in such soil are able to thrive, but since their plentiful fruit is too well nourished and crude, the rich oil which it gives is prone to deteriorate, whatever the precautions taken. A consensus is apparently being reached on the type of soil which is best suited to the olive and to the production of good, long-keeping oil: soil mixed with pebbles seems to give the best-quality fruit.

Olives may be propagated from seed, cuttings, layers, roots, or rooted suckers taken from the bases of old trees, and also by grafting. However, the commonest method is to use suckers found at the bases of the healthiest and most vigorous trees and the finest cultivars. The suckers are separated with a pick and the saplings grow quite well, even though they frequently root badly. The suckers should have a smooth, healthy, shiny bark: they should be branchless and only 1½ feet tall. They are planted in a tree nursery from the beginning of November to the end of March, in holes dug at intervals of three feet. The holes should be covered at the bottom with cow dung, or ewe droppings diluted in water, and filled up with good soil mixed with rich, well- rotted, well-broken manure. The whole should be covered with three digits of loose soil, or even sand, in order to prevent the soil from hardening and cracking. If these young trees are well trained and tended, they should be ready to be permanently transplanted after three years. This is the quickest, easiest, and most reliable method.

In order to propagate olives from seed, stones from well-ripened olives are separated from the fruit flesh and sown in March in sites of light, loose, soil and a favourable exposure. They should be watered at least twice a week in summer and covered with matting in winter, under which they gradually grow from the end of November to March. After two years, the young seedlings are strong enough to be transplanted into the tree nursery for grafting.

If one wishes to grow olives from cuttings, strong, vigorous branches at least as broad as a pick handle are taken from the finest species. Spring is the most suitable season for this operation, when the sap begins to flow. The cuttings are lopped at eight or nine inches and covered at both ends with a mastic made from wax and resin, so that they are protected from excessive damp. The cuttings are then coated all over with cow dung, or sheep droppings soaked in water in order to make them blend with the soil. The cuttings are then placed in prepared holes which are filled up with soil mixed with good manure in such a way that the tips of the cuttings are level with the ground, and the whole is covered over with three or four digits of light, sandy soil in order to preserve coolness while at the same time allowing the new shoots to pierce through the soil.

In order to propagate olives from layers, those branches which are near the ground are layered in April. On the method of performing this operation, see To layer.

Good olive trees may be grafted on to wild stocks raised from seed, but only during their second year and in the tree nursery. Flute grafting is the quickest and most reliable method and should be carried out at the end of April or the beginning of May. However, olives may also be shield budded: at the beginning of winter, one gathers those branches from which the shield-buds are to be taken or which are to be preserved by being kept in soil in a shady place. Grafting occurs during the growing period, when the trees are in flower and the sap is flowing. Three years later, the grafted trees may be permanently transplanted.

This tree may also be propagated by planting feeble roots from the bases of old trees, but this method is rarely used because it is long and unreliable.

Spring is the most suitable season for transplanting olives: where possible, they should be lifted on their root balls, and it cannot be over-emphasized that during this time they need to be manured and watered, and that their success will depend primarily on the care taken to put them in loose, light, active soil. These trees are planted twenty-five or thirty feet apart according to the soil condition, in rows spaced at broad intervals so that vines or wheat may be cultivated between them. Olives may subsist without cultivation, but will produce a lesser amount of small, poor-quality fruit. Consequently, one should continue to cultivate them, and when they become lazy or languid one should dig the soil to a depth of five or six inches round the tree bases, enriching them with suitable manure or burnt earth, which invigorates the trees without altering the quality of the fruit. The pruning of olives requires little skill: it involves cutting off dead wood, water shoots, and branches which are detrimental or grow too thin or long, etc.

The olive tree is long-lasting, fertile, and of regular growth. It takes again promptly, requires little cultivation, and multiplies readily. However, it is of no ornamental interest and resembles the willow. It is cultivated uniquely for its olives, of which the uses are well known: oil is made from them which is used at table, in cooking, for soap, in pharmacy, for burning, and for a whole host of other uses; see Oil. A large number of olives are pickled; see Olive.

Olive wood is hard, gnarled, crooked, and not very solid, but is nonetheless extremely beautiful due to its yellowish colour, grains, and knots forming remarkably varied patterns. It is much sought after by cabinetmakers and dealers in inlaid ware because it polishes well. However, since the woody layers adhere unevenly and the wood frequently separates as though it were badly stuck, it is not used in joinery. Olive wood is good for burning whether it is green or dry.

By sowing olives in different climates and soils, a large number of cultivars have been obtained, and in hot climates those which bear fruit in abundance, and are most suitable for producing fine olive oil and pickling olives, are selected for cultivation.

Here are the best-known olives. [1]

1. Wild olive: the leaves of the wild olive are hard, thick, and extremely white beneath. This species is native to the mountainous regions of hot countries. It bears little fruit which is extremely small, so that even though it produces fine oil, this fails to compensate for the pains one must take to procure the fruit. [2]

2. Olive with small, long fruit, or ‘Picholine’: this is one of the most prized cultivars for pickling. [3]

3. Olive with small, round fruit, ‘Aglaudan’, or ‘Caîanne’: this cultivar produces the finest oil.

4. Olive with large, long fruit, or ‘Laurine’: this olive has a raised, bumpy surface; it produces fine oil and is even better for pickling.

5. Olive with fruit resembling the cornel berry.

6. Olive with large, round fruit, or ‘Ampoullau’.

7. Precocious olive with round fruit, or ‘Moureau’.

8. Olive with large fruit, or Spanish olive. This is the largest and bitterest olive. [4]

9. Wild Spanish olive: the tip of the fruit is blunt.

10. Luca olive: the fruit of this olive is sweet-smelling.

11. Olive with leaves resembling those of box. [5] These last two cultivars are the hardiest and can thrive the best in the open ground in the southern part of the kingdom.

12. Large olive cultivar, or ‘Amélou’: the fruit of this olive is almond-shaped.

13. Olive with long, dark-green fruit.

14. White-fruited olive.

15. Olive with large, fleshy fruit, or royal olive.

16. Olive with round, green fruit, or ‘Verdale’.

17. Olive with fruit clusters, or ‘Bouteillau’.

18. Olive with small, round, red- and black-striped fruit, or ‘Pigau’.

19. Olive with small, round, blackish fruit, or ‘Salierne’.

The last seven cultivars bear an abundance of fruit and are mostly only suitable for producing mediocre oil.


1. There are thirty species of Olea . See D. J. Mabberley, The Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of the Vascular Plants (Cambridge, 1997), 500.

2. Olea europaea variety sylvestris, which is now included in Olea europaea subspecies europaea (Harris, pers. comm.). See D. J. Mabberley, The Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of the Vascular Plants (Cambridge, 1997), 501.

3. A cultivar of Olea europaea subspecies europaea, which is still called ‘Picholine’.

4. The Spanish and the Luca olives are both Olea europaea subspecies europaea variety europaea (Harris, pers. comm.).

5. Olea europaea subspecies cuspidata (ibid.).