= Olea europaea subsp. africana  = Olea africana
Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata, was previously called Olea europea subsp. africana and before that just Olea africana, and these two name changes in the last 30 or so years! It is a well known and liked, nicely shaped, small to medium evergreen tree. Closely related to its European cultivated cousin, it makes a beautiful specimen tree for a courtyard, or a feature shade tree in a garden or as an avenue tree to line long driveway.  Drought and cold hardy, this tree is well suited to most Highveld gardens.
Olea europaea subsp cuspidata is a well shaped, evergreen tree.
Family:                       OLEACEAE           (Olive family) Name Derivation:
  •  Olea – (Latin) Olive.
  • europaea – from Europe
  • cuspidata – from Latin and meaning sharp-pointed, probably referring to the pointed leaf apex.
Common Names:           Wild Olive, (Eng), olienhout (Afr), mohlware (Nso), mohloaare (Sso) umncuma (Swa), mutlhwari (Tso) motlhware(Tsw), mutwari  (Ven), and umnqumo (Zul) SAF Number:                  617                         Zim Number:                  810
Form A single stemmed tree with a dense, rounded and spreading crown. Size:                                   5- 8 m ( –12m) by 6 – 10 m  (-15m) Flower:
  • Small flowers are clustered in the leaf axils towards the end of branches.
Colour:                            Creamy-white to greenish-white. Flowering Months:         Oct – Feb. Fragrance:                      Sweetly scented.
The flowers of the Wild Olive are tiny, creamy-white to greenish-white and sweetly scented.
The simple, lanceolate leaves of Olea europaea subsp cuspidata are alternate opposite, dark green above an dull grey below.
  • Evergreen.
  • Simple leaves are lanceolate 2 – 10 cm by .7 – 1.5 cm and are alternate opposite.
  • Leaves are opaque when held against the light.
  • Dark green above, pale grey below.
Thorns:                          No thorns.
  • Round to oval fruits (.5 – 1cm).
  • Green ripening to purplish black.
  • Each fruit contains 1 seed.
  • Edible, pleasant but variable taste.
Bark:       Rough, grey, grey-brown or dark brown.
The edible fruit of Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata are small and rounded, black when ripe.
Olea europaea subs. cuspidata is often used as a pavement tree.
The ripe fruit of the Wild Olive is rather tasty and can be eaten straight from the tree. Each tree is said to have a unique flavor.
In the Garden:
  • A very popular garden, park and street tree in many parts of South Africa for its classic form and adaptability.
  • Because it is drought and cold resistant, it is a good choice for gardens on the Highveld.
  • Good wildlife friendly plants, attracting many insects and birds.
  • An ideal evergreen shade tree or for making an evergreen avenue.
  • May be used to good effect for screening.
  • Good as container plants.
  • Very good bonsai subjects.
  • Water-wise.
Soil Needs: Will grow in most soil types, but prefers a slightly alkaline soil.  Care:
  • A low maintenance garden subject.
  • Fast growing while young, feed and nourish for best results.
  • Prone to red-spider attack when stressed.
  • May be pruned to create a pleasing shape.
Cold Hardiness:              Very cold hardy.
Water Requirements:
  • Drought hardy, but will be happier with regular watering.
  • Water-wise.        
Light Requirements:     Full sun or light shade. Roots:                                The roots are not aggressive. Birds:
  • The fruit are eaten by many different bird species.
  • Used by insectivorous birds for foraging and gleaning.
  • Provide good nesting sites for many garden birds.
Insects and Butterflies:
  • Insects and adult butterflies visit the flowers for nectar.
  • Leaves contain compounds Oleuropein and Oleacein that work together to lower blood pressure.
  • Widely used in traditional medicine for numerous conditions from colic to sore throats.
Poisonous:                       Not poisonous. Notes of interest:
  • The edible fruit is much sought after by humans, other mammals and birds.
  • The heavy, close grained wood has a beautiful finish and is sought after for furniture.
  • The wood is also used for fence posts and, sadly, as firewood.
  • The European form is thought to have evolved from the African sub-species.
  • Leaves may be brewed as a tea substitute.
African Olive-Pigeons visit North Riding in large numbers when the Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata, Wild Olives, have bumper crops of fruit.
A very old Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata, Wild Olive, growing in habitat on a hillside near Colesburg in the Northern Cape.
Natural Distribution.
  • WC, NC, Nam, EC, KZN, Les, FS, Swa, M, G, NW, L, southern Moz and Zim.
  • North of our region its distribution extends to Ethiopia as well as the Mascarenes.
 Natural Habitat:
  • Grasslands, fynbos, Nama-Karoo, thickets, savanna-bushveld, savanna-lowveld, and savanna-woodlands.
  • Found along water courses, open woodland, among rocks and in kloofs.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2018.