The place, time and immediate ancestry of the cultivated olive are unknown. It is assumed that Olea europaea may have arisen from O. chrysophylla in northern tropical Africa and that it was introduced into the countries of the Mediterranean Basin via Egypt and then Crete or Palestine, Syria and Asia Minor. Fossilized leaves of Olea were found on the volcanic Greek island of Santorini and were dated about 37,000 BC. It is estimated the cultivation of olive trees began more than 7000 years ago. As far back as 3000 BC, olives were grown commercially in Crete. (1)
The Spanish colonists brought the olive to the New World where its cultivation prospered in present-day Peru and Chile. The first precious seedlings from Spain were planted in Lima by Antonio de Rivera in 1560. Olive tree cultivation quickly spread along the valleys of South America's dry Pacific coast where the climate was similar to the Mediterranean. (2) The Spanish missionaries established the tree in the 18th century in California. It was first cultivated at Mission San Diego de Alcala` in 1769 or later around 1795. Orchards were started at other missions but in 1838 an inspection found only two olive orchard in California. Oil tree cultivation gradually became a highly successful commercial venture from the 1860s onwards. (3)
1. Friedrich W.L. (1978) Fossil plants from Weichselian interstadials, Santorin (Greece) II, published in the "Thera and the Aegean World II", London, pp. 109–128. Retrieved on 2011-12-07.
2. Alfred W. Crosby (2003). The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequencies of 1492. p. 73.
3. Nancy Carol Carter (2008). "San Diego Olives: Origins of a California Industry". The Journal of San Diego History 54 (3): 138–140.