In keeping with the concept of looking at trees that are drought resistant, today we are focussing on the Olive tree, in particular the Kalamata variety.

The fruit of South Africa’s native olive cultivar, Olea africana (Wild olive), is inedible, but at least 20 different imported olive cultivars are grown locally.  These range from oil-producing varieties like Leccino and Frantoio to Kalamata and Mission olives which are preferred for table olive production.

The Kalamata olive is the benchmark of black eating olives.  Wind-, drought- and frost-resistant, this hardy evergreen tree can be found in almost every region of South Africa.  Olive trees prefer hot, dry summers and milder winter weather and are astoundingly tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions.  In areas where late frosts occur, the tree will not always fruit, but still provide ornamental value with its beautiful, silvery green foliage and gnarled trunk.

The trees start flowering in October and the fruit is generally ready to harvest from April to July.  Kalamara olives are harvested by hand when the olive turns a dark purple colour.  The flesh has a smooth, meaty texture and these olives are normally preserved in brine or olive oil.

Ideally, more than one olive tree should be planted to ensure cross-pollination.  The trees should start bearing fruit in about the 3rd to 4th year, reaching peak production by year 7.  In smaller gardens, the tree will thrive in a container.

Hardy and visually appealing, the Kalamata olive tree is an excellent choice for a kitchen or wildlife friendly garden.