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26 June 2019

Trees in the spotlight

The African Wild Olive (Olea europaea)

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Trees have many benefits: they harbor CO2, they create homes for wildlife, they produce oxygen and so on. That’s why each tree species deserves to be in the spotlight. Today, it’s time to introduce the Olea europaea.

The evergreen African Wild Olive grows in the Afromontane forests in Sudan, Somalia, Eastern tropical Africa and South Africa. She prefers the drier highland forests between 1,250 and 3,000 meters above sea level. With its many branches and rounded crown, it grows between 5 to 15 meters tall, often next to the Juniperus (the East African pencil cedar).

In Tigray, Ethiopia, this tree is mostly distributed as a relic tree in monasteries, villages, churches and in Afromontane natural forests.

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Not to be confused with the Meditteranean olive tree

For those that are getting excited about tossing some African olive oil in their next salad, unlike the Mediterranean olive trees, the African Wild Olives are not edible or commercialized. This is mainly because this fruit is very thin and has small seeds, and therefore the amount of oil that could be extracted from the seeds is too small and too difficult. However, in ancient times the Ethiopian Orthodox church used some of the extracted oil during the mass ceremony (as a holy ointment) and to polish the holy wooden materials used for ceremonial purpose.

A tree with many purposes

This tree species is very useful for dryland restoration, as it is drought and frost resistant and flower within 4-5 years, potentially giving fruits every year. 

Furthermore the tree is searched after for its durable timber, especially great to make ornaments and jewels. The leaves make good livestock fodder during the dry season and when burnt, the smoke from its leaves and stem is being used to fumigate food and liquid containers. If that wasn´t enough, the root or the bark is often used to treat malaria.

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However, because of the many uses of this tree, it has been over-harvested dramatically in Tigray, resulting under threat of local extinction. It is because of this, that WeForest is now focusing on extreme protection and reforestation of this valuable species.