The olive tree is native to the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and parts of Asia and Africa. There is evidence that humans have been cultivating olive trees for more than 8,000 years, according to the California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc. These trees are prized for their fruit, which is used raw for food, or pressed to make a rich, fruity oil. Olive trees flourish in semi-tropical environments with long, hot summers and short, mild winters. Only a few states are able to support commercially grown olive trees.
Olive trees grow well in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 and 11, and some cold-hardy varieties can tolerate Zones 8 and 9. Most of the state of California is located in these climate zones, although a small portion of the northeast section of the state is in Zone 7. Olive trees were introduced to California as far back as the mid- to late 1700s, when they were grown for their oil. These trees produce best along California's coastal valleys where the weather is most consistently warm, and most of the United States' commercially grown olives come from the state's agricultural Central Valley.
Olives are not a major cash crop for the island state of Hawaii, but that could change in the future. Certain areas in the state, including portions of the island of Maui, have the right conditions for growing a number of sub-tropical plants including wine grapes, citrus fruits and olive trees. Propagation of the trees are typically done from cuttings, as trees grown from seeds tend to revert back to their original wild, small-fruit state. Some varieties of olives grown in Hawaii begin to put on fruit within three years, but other varieties can take from five to 12 years to begin producing olives.
Most of the state of Florida is located in Zones 9, 10 and 11, although the northern portion and the panhandle are in Zone 8. Olive trees are grown commercially in the southern part of the state. Three varieties--Arbequina, Mission and Manzanilla--are well suited for Florida's climate and flourish anywhere citrus groves are common. They are cold hearty down to 12 degrees F, are self-pollinating and are resistant to both disease and pests. Most varieties grow to 30 feet in height, but the Mission variety can reach heights of up to 50 feet.