10 Varieties of Fruiting Olive Trees You Can Grow

Black and green olives

Evgenii Zotov / Getty Images

Humans have been growing, harvesting, and enjoying olives for thousands of years. We value them not only for their fruits but the oil they produce, too. However, not all olive trees bear fruit. The so-called "fruitless" olive trees are sterile, so, while they do flower and are quite ornamental, few if any viable fruits are produced. 

It's easy to look at the vast selection of olives available in your gourmet grocery store and imagine that you can grow any and all of these varieties. But you'll find only a few types available to purchase at your local garden center or through mail order retailers. However, if you live in a dry, warm climate (generally zones 8–10), you can successfully grow a number of fruiting olive varieties to serve at the table or press for their oil.

Growing Fruiting Olive Trees

The original species of olive trees were native to Syria and Asia Minor, but they've been cultivated for thousands of years, and the most well-known varieties are now attached to the regions where they were principally developed and cultivated. These subtropical regions offer the same kind of climate that supports the growth of wine grapes, but olives require even more care and take much longer to mature. However, olives tend to live and produce fruits for hundreds of years, so the time investment is worth it.

Olive trees are not grown from seed. They're either started from root or branch cuttings or are grafted onto other rootstock or trees. Olive trees tend to be self-pollinating, but planting two varieties will improve pollination and productivity.

The edible olive "fruit" is actually not a traditional fruit at all but a drupe—a fleshy structure that contains a single stone-like seed (like peaches and cherries). When compared to other drupe fruits, olives are relatively low in sugar and high in oil content. All olives start out green and gradually ripen to a darker brown, reddish-purple, or black. The riper the olive, the darker the color. Ripeness also affects the flavor and texture. Green olives tend to retain a firm texture and a fruity, nutty flavor. As olives ripen, they soften to a meaty texture and a more complex flavor.

Harvesting olives can be a tricky business since the trees are so large and the fruits don't all ripen at the same time. Olives are generally harvested by hand so that they're picked only when ripe and aren't dropped on the ground and bruised. It's an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. You can expect at least 20 pounds—and perhaps as much as 100 pounds—of olives from a mature tree, depending on its size and variety.

Once picked, olives for the table are generally cured in brine for up to one year, which sweetens them for eating. Or, they can be dry-cured in salt, rinsed, and cured in olive oil. There are other methods of curing, but they're normally used in commercial operations, not at home.

Here are 10 varieties of fruiting olive trees often available for purchase in the United States.

  • 01 of 10

    Arbequina (Olea europaea 'Arbequina')

    Young Arbequina olive tree in a planter
    robypangy / Getty Images

    The popular Arbequina olive from the Catalonia region of Spain is often recommended for growing in containers, as it will remain small when confined. It's one of the more cold-tolerant of the olive varieties. The fruits are small and light brown with a firm texture and a mild, fruity taste, resulting in a very fruity oil.

    • Native Area: Spain
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7–11
    • Height: 15–30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 02 of 10

    Mission (Olea europaea 'Mission')

    A mix of mission olives
    Juanmonino / Getty Images 

    Mission olives are more cold tolerant than most olive trees. They're thought to have originated in Spain but have been grown in California since the 1700s when they were planted there by Franciscan missionaries. Whatever isn’t used to make oil is either brine-cured while green or oil-cured when black to create a fresh, mild-flavored snacking olive.

    • Native Area: California (via Spain)
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7–10
    • Height: 25–30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 03 of 10

    Picholine (Olea europaea 'Picholine')

    Picholine olives soaking in brine
    Paolo_Toffanin / Getty Images

    Another good choice for growing in containers is the French Picholine olive, which is crunchy with a spicy, nutty flavor. The most common olive in France, it's great for snacking, holds up well in cooking, and makes a mild-flavored oil. The olives are harvested green for eating but allowed to ripen to black if used for oil.

    • Native Area: France
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–10
    • Height: 20–30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 04 of 10

    Manzanilla (Olea europaea 'Manzanilla')

    Branch full of green Manzanilla olives

    Thanatham Piriyakarnjanakul / Getty images

    If these large green olives look familiar, it's for good reason: Spanish Manzanillas are the most popular olive consumed in the U.S. They're brine-cured and often stuffed with pimientos or tossed with olive oil and garlic. The Manzanilla olive tree, an attractive landscape tree with a billowing crown and a gnarled trunk, is exceptionally productive though slow-growing. It's popular as a small shade tree as well as for its tasty olives. However, it can be susceptible to damage from cold weather and diseases, including olive knot and verticillium wilt.

    • Native Area: Spain
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–10
    • Height: 20–30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Amfissa (Olea europaea 'Amfissa')

    Harvesting Amfissa olives
    Aldo Pavan / Getty Images

    Hailing from central Greece, Amfissa olive trees produce brownish-purple drupes. The olives are usually brine-cured for a mild fruity flavor; sometimes, a citric acid brine is used instead to impart a sharp citrusy taste. These fast-growing trees have a spreading growth habit and produce fruit in three to four years.

    • Native Area: Central Greece
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9–11
    • Height: 20–30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 06 of 10

    Nocellara Del Belice (Olea europaea 'Nocellara Del Belice')

    Cured green Nocellara Del Belice olives
    couleur / Pixabay

    The bright green olives marketed as Castelvetrano olives are actually grown from the Nocellara del Belice cultivar from Sicily. Thanks to their mild flavor and buttery texture, they're considered some of the best table olives, popular worldwide. The tree has very good resistance to pests and diseases, and it has a dense crown that makes it a small shade tree.

    • Native Area: Sicily
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–11
    • Height: 15–20 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 07 of 10

    Gordal Sevillano (Olea europaea 'Gordal Sevillano')

    Green Gordal Sevillano olives on a tree

    Rechelle Alcances / Getty Images

    The Spanish Gordal Sevillano is a firm, chubby olive that's a snack unto itself. The flesh is quite soft, and they're often stuffed with pimientos, cheese, or fruit. The olive trees have an attractive willow-like appearance that works well in landscapes. With age, the trunk becomes gracefully gnarled.

    • Native Area: Spain
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–11
    • Height: 20–30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 08 of 10

    Kalamata (Olea europea 'Kalamata')

    Brown Kalamata olives in liquid
    etiennevoss / Getty images

    One of the most familiar olives is the Kalamata. These popular Greek olives have an almond shape and shiny dark-purple skin. You'll often find them preserved in olive oil or sometimes in red wine or red wine vinegar. The flavor is somewhat smoky and fruity, and Kalamatas work well in any recipe calling for a black olive. The trees have a typical upright spreading habit, with leaves somewhat larger than most olive tree varieties. However, it doesn't do well in extremely hot conditions.

    • Native Area: Southern Greece
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7–10
    • Height: 20–25 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Niçoise (Olea europaea 'Niçoise')

    Ripe black Niçoise olives on a branch

    Canva / Designer from CC0

    A staple in southern France, the small black Niçoise olive is used in tapenade and, of course, Niçoise salad. They have a strong, smoky, herbal flavor. Although considered a French native, these are actually Italian Ligurian olives that have been harvested at their mature dark-brown state and brine-cured with assorted herbs. The trees, which are fond of hot, dry conditions, have slightly weeping branches and green leaves that are broader than most olive types. Edible olives appear within two years.

    • Native Area: Italy
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–11
    • Height: 25–30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 10 of 10

    Frantoio (Olea europaea 'Frantoio')

    Black Frantoio olives on branches

    Francesco Vignali / Getty Images

    With roots in Tuscany, the Frantoio olive tree produces dark oval drupes that are excellent for producing oil as well as consuming. This fast-growing tree, which has attractive silvery foliage that adds visual interest to any landscape, produces edible olives in just one to two years.

    • Native Area: Tuscany, Italy
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–11
    • Height: 20–25 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full

Growing olives can be a tempting proposition, but the size of the trees, the number of fruits, and the work required to maintain a healthy tree can be daunting. Since your olive trees will probably outlive you (a morbid thought, we know), give it considerable thought before you plant one or more in your yard.