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Caution - South
Not a problem species (documented) - Central, North

Terminalia buceras: Black Olive1

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, Andrew K. Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert, and Drew C. McLean 2

Introduction

Though commonly called `Black olive tree', this native of the upper Florida Keys (some consider it native, others do not) is not the edible olive we know and love, but does produce a small, black seed-capsule. Black olive is a 40 to 50-foot-tall evergreen tree with a smooth trunk holding up strong, wind-resistant branches, forming a pyramidal shape when young but developing a very dense, full, oval to rounded crown with age. Sometimes the top of the crown will flatten with age, and the tree grows horizontally. The lush, dark green, leathery leaves are two to four inches long and clustered at branch tips, sometimes mixed with the 1/4 to 1 ½-inch-long spines found along the branches.

Figure 1. Full Form - Terminalia buceras: black olive
Figure 1.  Full Form - Terminalia buceras: black olive
Credit: UF/IFAS

General Information

Scientific name: Terminalia buceras

Pronunciation: ter-mih-NAIL-ee-uh bew-SER-azz

Common name(s): black olive, oxhorn bucida

Family: Combretaceae

USDA hardiness zones: 10B through 11 (Figure 2)

Origin: native to the West Indies

UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: caution, may be recommended but manage to prevent escape (South); Not considered a problem species at this time, may be recommended (North and Central)

Uses: hedge; reclamation; street without sidewalk; shade; specimen; tree lawn 4–6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; urban tolerant; highway median; indoors

Figure 2. Range.
Figure 2.  Range.

Description

Height: 40 to 50 feet

Spread: 35 to 50 feet

Crown uniformity: irregular

Crown shape: oval, round

Crown density: dense

Growth rate: fast

Texture: fine

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate (Figure 7)

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: entire

Leaf shape: obovate, oblanceolate

Leaf venation: brachidodrome, pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: evergreen

Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches

Leaf color: dark green on top, paler green underneath

Fall color: no color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. Leaf - Terminalia buceras: black olive
Figure 3.  Leaf - Terminalia buceras: black olive
Credit: UF/IFAS

Flower

Flower color: creamy yellow to light brown

Flower characteristics: not showy; urn-shaped; emerges in clusters on long spikes

Flowering: spring and summer

Figure 4. Flower - Terminalia buceras: black olive
Figure 4.  Flower - Terminalia buceras: black olive
Credit: UF/IFAS

Fruit

Fruit shape: oval

Fruit length: ¼ to ½ inch

Fruit covering: fleshy drupe

Fruit color: black

Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem

Fruiting: ripens mid to late summer

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically one trunk; thorns

Bark: brown and smooth, becoming rough and fissured with age

Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure

Breakage: resistant

Current year twig color: gray

Current year twig thickness: thin, medium

Wood specific gravity: unknown

Figure 5. Canopy - Terminalia buceras: black olive
Figure 5.  Canopy - Terminalia buceras: black olive
Credit: UF/IFAS

Figure 6. Bark - Terminalia buceras: black olive
Figure 6.  Bark - Terminalia buceras: black olive
Credit: Gitta Hasing, UF/IFAS

Culture

Light requirement: full sun to partial shade

Soil tolerances: sand; loam; clay; acidic; alkaline; moist but well-drained

Drought tolerance: high

Aerosol salt tolerance: high

Other

Roots: not a problem

Winter interest: no

Outstanding tree: no

Ozone sensitivity: unknown

Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown

Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Use and Management

The inconspicuous, small, greenish-yellow flowers are produced in 4-inch-long spikes during spring and summer and eventually form the black fruits which, unfortunately, exude a staining tannic acid material which could damage patios, sidewalks, or vehicles parked below. Besides this one drawback, Black olive is beautifully suited as a street, shade, or specimen tree for frost-free areas, but is probably overplanted. There are many native trees which could be used in its place, including satin leaf, gumbo-limbo and others.

Black olive grows slowly and should be planted in full sun or partial shade on well-drained, moist soils. Plants may be slightly damaged at 32°F, but are killed at 25°F. Trees may show chlorosis on high pH soils.

Propagation is by seeds (with difficulty) or layering.

Pests and Diseases

No pests or diseases are of major concern but occasionally bothered by sooty mold and bark borer. Eryphide mites cause galls but no control is needed.

References

Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Footnotes

1. This document is ENH261, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2018. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department; Ryan W. Klein, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, Gainesville, FL 32611; Andrew K. Koeser, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC), Wimauma, FL 33598; Deborah R. Hilbert, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; and Drew C. McLean, biological scientist, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

IFAS Assessment

South

Caution

Caution - manage to prevent escape. May be recommended by IFAS. Will be reassessed in two years.

view assessment

IFAS Assessment

Central, North

Not a problem species (documented)

Not considered a problem species at this time. May be recommended by IFAS. Reassessed every 10 years.

view assessment

Publication #ENH261

Date: 4/24/2019

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      Contacts

      • Andrew Koeser