Palms and Olives

     In my front yard I have three olive trees.  They are the fruitless, pollenless Swan Hill variety.  Many communities and homeowner's associations, including ours, prohibit the planting of olive trees because of the pollen and the fruit they drop which causes staining.  I have never seen or grown olive trees before, so I do not know how much of a problem that can be.  The Swan Hill variety is the only variety of olive tree allowed in our neighborhood.  I found out that they have been around for about thirty years, and were patented by the University of California, Davis, CA.

Swan Hill olive tree
We wanted a tree that was evergreen and would grow to thirty feet.  This tree has feather-shaped, gray-green leaves.  This variety does produce small, cream-colored flowers.  But the anther (pollen producing portion of the flower) never opens up so no pollen is released.  We had them planted in front of our bare wall in the front yard.  The Swan Hill olive is grafted to a rootstock that is resistant to verticillium wilt fungus.  They have fewer pests and diseases thatn most fruit trees.  Native to the Mediterranean area, they prefer a long, hot growing season.  They grow well on almost any soil, and can survive extended dry periods.  The only thing I've done is fertilized once at planting.

olive tree leaves

     There are five pygmy date palms (Phoenix roebelenii) growing in our yard, three in the back yard and two along the front of the house.  I discovered that these are a species of date palm native to Southeast Asia.  In the wild, these are usually single-trunked, but here most nurseries plant them as multiples together.  Ours all have three trunks.

Pygmy date palm
   They are a popular landscape tree here because they are slow-growing (can reach 6 to 8 feet), low maintenance, hardy and beautiful.  They tolerate a wide range of soils, are salt tolerant, mildly drought tolerant, resistant to pests, hardy to 20 degrees F, and can be grown in sun or shade.  I've read that although they are native to southwestern China, northern Laos, and northern Vietnam, they are grown in Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, southern California, southern Nevada, coastal Texas, Florida, parts of Louisiana, and Arizona.

     Our trees have a dense, graceful crown and dark green leaves that arch to the ground.  I think they give a tropical feel to our dry, desert yard.  They produce small, yellowish flowers that are mostly hidden by the arching leaves, and a small (1 cm) fruit that looks like a thin-fleshed date.  I have been stabbed a time or two by the sharp spines that are present on the leaf where it attaches to the trunk.  I only prune the leaves that die off, and have only fertilized once when planting, but they look like they need it again.  There is some browning of the leaf tips that may signal micronutrient deficiencies.  Browning can also occur because of frost damage, and our trees suffered a small amount of damage this winter when we had the freezes.

Pygmy date palm flowers

     As I conclude this post, here is an interesting tidbit of information about palms and olives.  In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, B.J. Johnson produced a soap in 1898 made entirely of palm and olive oils.  He called it Palmolive and named his company after it.  At the turn of the century, it was the world's best selling soap.  This company is now known as the Colgate-Palmolive Company.


  1. Seems you've struck gold in those two trees. Horticulturally, I mean, as they look like they belong there. Speaking of striking gold, ol' B.J. certainly did. Fascinating historical note.

  2. Thanks, Lee. We do enjoy the trees, particularly the palms. I thought it was fascinating about B.J. also.