The Olive by the London Reading Book

No tree is more frequently mentioned by ancient authors, nor was any more highly honoured by ancient nations, than the olive. By the Greeks it was dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, and formed the crown of honour given to their Emperors and great men, as with the Romans. It is a tree of slow growth, but remarkable for the great age it attains; never, however, becoming a very large tree, though sometimes two or three stems rise from the same root, and reach the height of from twenty to thirty feet. The leaves grow in pairs, lanceolate in shape, of a dull green on the upper, and hoary on the under side. Hence, in countries where the olive is extensively cultivated, the scenery is of a dull character, from this colour of the foliage. The fruit is oval in shape, with a hard strong kernel, and remarkable from the outer fleshy part being that in which much oil is lodged, and not, as is usual, in the seed. It ripens from August to September.

Of the olive-tree two varieties are particularly distinguished: the long-leafed, which is cultivated in the south of France and in Italy; and the broad-leafed in Spain, which has its fruit much longer than that of the former kind.

Olive Trees, Gethsemane.

That the olive grows to a great age, has long been known. Pliny mentions one which the Athenians of his time considered to be coëval with their city, and therefore 1600 years old; and near Terni, in the vale of the cascade of Marmora, there is a plantation of very old trees, supposed to consist of the same plants that were growing there in the time of Pliny. Lady Calcott states that on the mountain road between Tivoli and Palestrina, there is an ancient olive-tree of large dimensions, which, unless the documents are purposely falsified, stood as a boundary between two possessions even before the Christian era. Those in the garden of Olivet or Gethsemane are at least of the time of the Eastern Empire, as is proved by the following circumstance:—In Turkey every olive-tree found standing by the Mussulmans, when they conquered Asia, pays one medina to the treasury, while each of those planted since the conquest is taxed half its produce. The eight olives of which we are speaking are charged only eight medinas. By some it is supposed that these olive-trees may have been in existence even in the time of our Saviour; the largest is about thirty feet in girth above the roots, and twenty-seven feet high.