The olive tree is a small tree, native to the area around the Mediterranean Sea; the botanical name is Olea europaea, and it is the only species of the genus whose fruits are used, while some other species (Olea capensis, Olea laurifolia) are cultivated for their compact and heavy wood, of excellent quality. Being small trees naturally present also in Italy, any lover of plants and gardens knows well the salient characteristics of the olive tree: it is a fairly small tree, which does not exceed 6-8 m in height, very long-lived, with squat trunk, gnarled and twisted, and scattered ramifications, which give rise to a disordered crown; the leaves are small, lanceolate, evergreen, leathery, with the upper page gray green, and the lower page clear, gray. The general aspect of an "old" olive tree is that of a plant that struggles to survive, even if in reality this aspect is maintained even in the specimens that have everything they need available; It is a distinctive feature of the olive trees, which makes them very interesting in urban design and in the preparation of gardens. The old olive trees, large in size, which can count on several decades of life, can reach very high prices, and for this reason a large olive tree in the garden represents a sort of green status symbol for many. Unfortunately, this feature has led many plant traders to look for ever older olive trees, to be explanted and sold, thus plundering the olive groves of some areas of the Mediterranean of the most beautiful specimens. In some Italian regions, efforts are being made to protect the dignity of these trees, trying to recover the uncultivated and abandoned olive groves, so that the olive trees contained in them are not sold to the highest bidder as garden plants. The olive trees produce very small white or greenish flowers, which bloom on young twigs, called mignole, produced in the leaf axil; the flowers are followed by the fruits, small oval drupes, called olives, which are used for direct consumption or to produce olive oil, one of the healthiest and most valuable oils. The olives have a thin green pulp, which becomes purple or purple when ripe, in October or November, the ripening of the olives is called veraison; in Italy the most aromatic and delicate oil is usually extracted from partially unripe or not yet fully ripe olives.
The olive varieties
Hence, the olive trees all belong to the same species, olea europaea; the other olea species do not produce drupes from which a cooking oil can be obtained; for this reason there are no different olive species; there are some subspecies, widespread in South Africa and the Canary Islands, but in general edible olives and oil are obtained only from trees of the olea europaea species. These trees have been cultivated in the Mediterranean area for millennia, and olives are mentioned in writings from ancient Greece and earlier; the trees are very long-lived, there are specimens that count more than a thousand winters; millennia of human cultivation, and the spread (quite "recent") of these trees also in other areas of the globe, such as Asia and South America, have given an incredible quantity of cultivars, only in Italy there are about three hundred. Wild olives produce small fruits, with a thin and firm pulp, uninteresting for the consumption or production of the oil; over the millennia man has selected those specimens that for some reason produced larger and fleshy fruits, and has propagated them, grafting them on other specimens, or by cutting, thus maintaining the most interesting characteristics. Although there are so many varieties of olive cultivars, most people know only a few, less than a dozen, because they are the most common ones, or because they are linked to particular food specialties. The cultivars spread all over Italy are Leccino and Moraiolo; there are also several other cultivars that differ from region to region, and also according to the use that will be made of the olives; the Taggiasca olives are typical of Liguria, the Rosciola olive is typical of Molise, the Bella di Cerignola olive is grown in Puglia; and so on. Among the non-Italian cultivars perhaps the most famous in Italy is the Kalamata olive, grown in Greece. These varieties have larger fruits, but sometimes also simply fruits that give rise to an oil with a particular aroma, which then becomes typical of the production region; those who habitually consume extra virgin olive oil also know the great differences that can occur, for example, between Sicilian and Ligurian oil; this difference is essentially due to the different cultivars that are grown in the two different regions.