It’s All About Balance – The Story of Black Olive Tree

We love all plants here, and have rarely met a plant that we could not find some likeable feature in.  One of things we like most about plants is the rich and interesting stories and histories about them.   One of the driving motivations for this project is preserving those stories and passing them on.

The story of how the Black Olive Tree came to be introduced into Florida, and then evolved to be one of the most popular and widely used street and urban trees in South Florida is an interesting bit of horticultural history, and offers a great example of the gardening axiom that should always be kept in mind when choosing plants is that no choice will be always be perfect in every way on every day. 


When choosing plants, there is always a fine balance that exists between good and bad, feature and fault, pro and con. That which is a desirable feature in one application, or even within a certain season, or growth stage can be a fault in another. The tipping of that scale between good and bad is subjective and most often little more than the opinion of the observer, as well as the simple matter of  how bad do you want it?   For example the effort necessary to protect those gorgeous, exotic, but sensitive to the cold, tropical  blooming treasures from freezing during the winter, or the replacement of seasonal annuals when they pass their prime.   What is simply too much work and bother for one gardener is a labor of love for another.  With plants beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder, as what is, in the opinion of one, an ugly, stunted unbalanced eyesore, has character and visual appeal to another. But, more about that on some other day.

The Black Olive Tree (Bucida buceras) is a tropical tree native to Central America and the Caribbean. Some experts believe its native range includes the Florida Keys, but others believe this particular species was introduced later by foreigners.  However the Dwarf Black Olive (Bucida molentii syn spinosa), which reaches only about 8 feet tall and has very small leaves,  probably is indigenous to the Keys and perhaps some other coastal areas of South Florida.

Before this tree gained commercial popularity for ornamental use, its primary use was as a lumber source.  The wood is dense, heavy and very close grained, and is favorite choice of boat builders.  However, it was primarily harvested from the wild and not cultivated for that use.  Harvesting is now restricted or prohibited in many locations.

Generally these trees will reach a mature height ranging from 20 to 80 feet, develop strong, sturdy, large diameter trunks that are covered by a thick, dense gray, deeply fissured bark. The tree canopy grows dense and tight, with most having an outward, spreading horizontal habit.

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Despite the common name, this tree (Bucida buceras) is completely unrelated to the edible olive (Olea europaea). The Black Olive nomer is likely the result of the vague resemblance of the fruit to the edible olive (mostly round with a single seed). The fruit of Bucida buceras however has little pulp and is not edible.


Small smooth oval leaves that emerge a light medium green and mature to a deep, slightly blue toned green grow along unusual zig-zagged formed stems. Some trees also grow a sharp thorn-like spine on old growth behind the leaf node.

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Although the spring bloom is described as nondescript by horticultural experts, I would disagree.  The tiny yellowish green to golden beige petal-less flowers cover the entire canopy of the tree making it appear like a brown sugar coated confection when the sun shines through, proving that flowers do not always have to be large and brightly colored to be breathtakingly beautiful.  The inedible fruit sets a few weeks later and is attractive to birds.


It is not often adversely effected by pests or disease. The caterpillar of the Galeria Moth, Characoma nilotica will sometimes feed on the flowers in the spring, this was once considered to be a major fault of the Black Olive Tree, but that was back in the days when many believed the only good bug was a dead one.  The caterpillars are actually nothing more than a self limiting, short term nuisance and while they can cause some defoliation and browning sometimes, they do not cause any permanent damage.

Garella Moth

Staining of surfaces underneath Black Olive Trees which was once also considered a major fault of the tree is actually just a natural, organic and temporary side effect of the ….err……waste products produced by the caterpillar (scientifically referred to as frass) and yes, it means what you think it means).

As a whole the species is highly salt tolerant and puts down deep anchoring roots making it able to endure high winds with little damage.  Breakage within the canopy and the loss of geotrophism (knowing up from down) was also called out as a fault in this species following hurricane Andrew.  However, subsequent and more recent high wind storm events have shown that the Black Olive Trees held up as well as any other species, and better than most.  The odd angled growth that was once observed and written up by an expert as being specific to the Black Olive was later also seen in live oaks, pines and other species in central Florida following Hurricanes Charley, Jean, Frances and Wilma, which hit that area back to back in 2004.

The root system of the Black Olive Tree grows deep and downward and does not spread outward so this tree can be safely planted within 6 to 8 feet of walls, sidewalks, etc without fear of future problems developing.

But its best and most appealing feature perhaps is not the aesthetic beauty of the large, dense, horizontal spread of the canopy but rather that promise of a cool, dark respite of relief from the tropical sun that beckons from underneath it.

The number of Black Olive Trees growing in South Florida stands as a living testament to the power of sharing and community. The species was originally brought to the Miami area from Jamaica by a Catholic priest some time in the early 1900s. He planted a pair at his church. The Priest then gave away seeds to parishioners and others who admired the trees, and more seed was passed on by those folks, and by the early 1940’s Black Olive Trees had become a common feature in the Dade County landscape,  the overwhelming majority no doubt originating from the passing along of seed by individuals, as the Black Olive Tree had not yet garnered the notice of commercial landscape growers.

In the late 1950’s the City of Miami circulated a bid proposal for the planting of approximately 100 Black Olive Trees along a new Parkway, but after searching for the trees for the project far and wide, the idea was ultimately abandoned due to the limited commercial availability of the species. However, the compounding effect of the broad distribution of this proposal served to awaken the interest of local commercial nursery growers.

Once a species catches on in the landscape trade, growers begin, of course, to study and learn how to efficiently produce it in large numbers as quickly as possible, but secondly they begin to observe the growth habit and features closely in hopes of spotting cultivars with different, stronger or more desirable features than the original species in general.

The original Bucida buceras had a lot going for them.  However, the species is extremely difficult to propagate from vegetative cuttings, and a significant number of seedling grown trees are not ultimately marketable due to significant differences in mature height, growth habit and speed of growth.

By the mid 70’s, although commercial demand for the Black Olive Tree remained strong, the nursery profession had a love/hate relationship with it.  Frequently it is as if the universe somehow gets tuned in to our problems with plants, as the solutions often present themselves serendipitously.

In the early 1970’s commercial growers David Biggars and his son  (and my good friend) Dave Jr. collected seed from Bucida molentii (spinosa) at the Subtropical Experiment Station in Homestead.  There were also Bucida buceras trees growing in the surrounding area.  The crop of starter plants produced from this seed was sold to David Sinclair at Sinclair Landscape Nursery in Miami.  As this crop developed, David Sinclair noticed a tree growing differently from the rest the crop, which was not an uncommon finding when dealing with this genus.  But there was something about that one tree that piqued his interest.

As it would turn out the tree that David Sinclair would ultimately come to name the superior and improved cultivar Shady Lady, and it would eventually become the industry standard for the popular species.

The Shady Lady Black Olive grows more dense, tight, uniform, and smaller.  The average 20 to 30 feet mature height makes it better suited for street, parking lot, and other commercial and urban applications.

Another favorite use of the Shady Lady Black Olive is for Bonsai.  Although the Dwarf Black Olive (Bucida molentii (syn spinosa)) is generally the preferred type for miniaturization, the Shady Lady Black Olive makes an excellent large Garden Bonsai specimen.

In short, as trees goes, the Shady Lady Black Olive is a fine example of balance, and while not perfect in every way, in the right setting, she certainly brings an elegance, style and grace to a tropical landscape that by far outweighs her few faults… my humble opinion (of course).

However, better to try one and see if you agree Buy Shady Lady Black Olive

I Could Tackle That To Do List……

Or I could just sit for awhile…………………

As Winter gives way toward Spring, that urge to clean up, fix up, organize and generally put our lives and gardens  in order seems to just be hard wired into our DNA.   As the first promise of warmer weather and sunshine glimmers distantly in the air, off we go, rushing almost in unison, often still in our boots and sweaters,  to our favorite sources for garden delights and the local Home Improvement Stores.

Here in the subtropics, Spring comes early and is very short lived.  If you don’t get that Garden To Do List done early, then the heat, humidity and bugs soon put a damper on your enthusiasm.  So even though it’s early January, my Spring Cleaning clock has begun ticking in earnest.

In making the rounds this morning with my brand new shiny 21st century version of the notebook To Do List (my first ‘Smart Phone’).   I passed by the spot where the summer dog days stopped all but my most essential garden chores dead in their tracks last season.   I could spend the rest of the day just making a list of the work that needs to be done in that one 12’x12′ area.  The bougainvilleas are overgrown and desperately need to be pruned, a gate needs to be installed, the door painted, the stepping stones  laid,  the umbrella stand put up, and on and on.  That feeling of being overwhelmed and annoyed at what was not achieved was fast pushing out the satisfaction and pride in what was accomplished last year.
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History of the Heirloom, Antique Rose Louis Phillipe aka Cracker Rose

The Louis Phillip Rose was likely introduced into the Southeastern United States by a Texas politician, who was Minister to France in the 1830s, Loreneza de Zavala.  It is believed to have been a gift from the French to Zavala who planted it at  his home in Lynchburg, Texas near Houston.  Louis Phillipe was originally hybridized by the well known French rose breeder,  Guerin in 1834, and was named in honor of the King of France  Louis Philippe, who had returned to France around this time after a long period of political exile.

More than 100 years later this beautiful gift from France had become a staple in the southern landscape, and has become so associated with the South that it is commonly called the Cracker Rose.   This popularity is no doubt due to how easy and rewarding Louis Phillip is to grow.  This  rose bears flowers profusely and often, with very little effort.  The bush grows to be between 3 to 6 feet tall depending on climate with a busy rounding habit.  It is generally considered winter hardy in Zone 7 and south, some sources rate it to Zone 6.  But, we would caution Zone 6 growers to plant a large mature plant early, in as protected a location as is possible, and then mulch heavily well ahead of freezing weather.
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Crapemyrtle Trees

At Emerald Goddess Gardens we consider crapemyrtles to be one of the best summer plants for southern landscapes and gardens.  There are few trees or large shrubs that are as versatile, colorful and easy to maintain.

Crapemyrtles were introduced into landscape cultivation in the southern United States about 150 years ago, and have since become popular favorites in Zones 7 to 9.

The Emerald Goddess Gardens Featured Plant  is a crapemyrtle named Twilight, which is a purple flowered, intermediate sized, early summer bloomer.  Twilight  is a somewhat smaller than average crapemyrtle.  It will reach a mature height of about 12′ to 15′ at most, or can be easily kept pruned at a lower height as a large hedge.   The flowers of Twilight are bright, vibrant and eye catching in multi tones of neon purple.
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About Smelling The Roses

Bermuda Mystery Rose

Bermuda Mystery Rose

‘Stop to smell the roses ‘ is a cliche phrase that is meant to remind us to slow down and enjoy the world around us.

This is advice I agree with, but have to have forgotten to put it into practice over the past few months. For weeks now I’ve been immersed and obsessed with using this time while everyone is preparing for the Holidays and cooler weather to get this site well stocked and fully open for business by the Spring. For someone of my level of computer technical ability, it’s quite an undertaking. The learning curve continues to be daunting. I’ve barely taken notice of anything beyond the 16″ x 9″ square of this lap top monitor, including my own garden.

Gardens are like children. They do not pause their growth and development waiting on you to catch up. So, when I walked through mine a few days ago, I was appalled and discouraged by all that needed my attention. Pruning, weeding, mowing, mulching, spraying, dividing; every where I looked some undone task was waggling a scolding finger at me. Which, of course, set the stage to get a full blown pity party going.
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Florida Native Plants

Florida Native Plants – Tropical Plants Florida

Here are some of the best Florida Native Plants for the average gardener. Most are easy to care for and require low maintenance.

Be sure to check back with us often because we are always adding to our inventory!

Firebush Picture


Live Plant with Red and Orange Flowers

Nectar Rich and Attracts Butterflies and Hummingbirds

…more about Firebush Plants





Live Plant with Vivid Red Flower Spikes

Winter Bloom Attracts Hummingbirds

…more about Firespike Plants


Honeysuckle Vine

Honeysuckle Vine

Live Plant with Orange Yellow Flowers ‘Coral’

Attracts Hummingbirds

…more about Honeysuckle Vines


Come back to see what is new in our Florida Native Plants section. We have different plants at different times of the year.

Be sure to visit our store for other types of

Tropical Plants and Trees




Tropical Hibiscus Live Old Heirloom Rare Double Mauve Purple Marguerite

About Hibiscus Rosa Senisis – Hibiscus ‘Marguerite

Hibiscus Marguerite is an old heirloom cultivar that is seldom produced commercial now. It is a lovely, unusual, exotic shade of mauve lavender with a deeper burgundy colored throat. It is suitable for growing in tropical and sub tropical landscapes or as a potted plant for the porch, poolside, or patio.

Marguerite Hibiscus have the large, unique color in the flower of many exotics, but is a moderately strong and vigorous plant. It grows slightly slower than many landscape cultivars, but can be used in many applications where the slower growth is a desirable trait, and it will bloom in light shade.

Left unpruned, Marguerite will reach a mature height of about 2′ to 3′ , but is easy to maintain at lower heights. Frequent pruning is beneficial and helps the plant grower bushier and stronger.
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Japanese Blueberry Tree Eleocarpus Decipiens

Japanese Blueberry Tree – Eleocarpus Decipiens

Japanese Blueberry Bushes – Japanese Blueberry Trees

Japanese Blueberry Tree Plant

These are ideal for suburbs and provide a nice green foliage backdrop to your landscape and gardens. They are also great for use as small hedges.

Japanese blueberry bushes are fairly easy to care for. These evergreen trees produce small white flowers and bluish-black berries that follow blooming.

One of the greatest things about the fruit is that it does not stain driveways and walkways.

These can be hard to find when looking to purchase one. Lucky for you, Emerald Goddess Gardens has a great supply of healthy Blueberry Trees, and at great prices!

Japanese Blueberry Bush
Japanese Blueberry Tree Sizes

The Japanese Blueberry Trees can grow to sizes of thirty to fifty feet in height and as wide as forty feet. This makes them extremely versatile when landscaping with the ability to trim as a hedge, bush or tree.

Planting Zones for Blueberry Trees

Recommended planting hardiness zones for the blueberry tree is from 8b to 11. Their variance of the zone requirements is very small. It needs soil that has a pH balance of between 6.6 to 7.8 and slightly alkaline or neutral. It does best when planted in full sun or partial shade.

Find your USDA Plant Hardness Zone Here.

Caring for Your Japanese Blueberry Bush

** Very Important Note Do not over water!

Maintain a regular watering schedule but avoid over watering. The soil should drain well to avoid standing water around the blueberry tree roots. Use a good fertilizer at the beginning of Spring to aid in health and growth.

The Japanese Blueberry Tree, or Japanese Blueberry Bush, is a great addition to any landscape. They are relatively easy to care for and are great as bushes, trees and even hedges.

Buy Japanese Blueberry Tree

Japanese Blueberry Bushes – Japanese Blueberry Tree