Bermuda Olivewood (Elaeodendron laneanum)
The Bermuda Olivewood, also called Olivewood Bark, is one of Bermuda’s three endemic tree species. It grows to 8-14 m (25-45 feet) and develops a thick, smooth-barked trunk. The leaves are glossy on the top, with a toothed edge. New leaves at the tips of branches are bright green, while the older leaves further down the branch are darker green.
The Olivewood was one of the trees in the original forest of Bermuda, along with Bermuda Cedar and Palmetto. The Olivewood would have been found scattered among other trees on sheltered valleys and inland hillsides. The early colonists used the bark of the Olivewood for tanning leather. As the sheltered valleys of Bermuda were cleared for agriculture, and invasive species were introduced, this tree became rare.
Olivewood flowers in late winter and spring. The small flowers are greenish white and occur in clusters at the tip of branches. The flowers are followed by yellowish green fruit that resemble small olives, hence the common name of this tree. The fruit ripen in the autumn.
On ‘rat-free’ Nonsuch Island the fruit drop to the ground and seedlings sprout readily. On mainland Bermuda, however, it is difficult to find seedlings of Olivewood as the fruit are eaten by birds and rats. Rats and invasive plants have disrupted the natural ecosystem of Bermuda’s forests, making it difficult for our endemic plants to survive without help.
Fortunately, Olivewood is easily grown from seeds and has been widely planted in nature reserves, parks and gardens. This tree is appropriate for ornamental uses in a variety of garden situations, and as it is a small tree with dense leaves, it can even be used for hedges. Olivewood trees in a garden setting are often very neat in appearance, with a rounded shape that looks like they have been pruned.
In December 2016 the Olivewood was placed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with Endangered status due to the ongoing threats to this species from invasive species, loss of habitat and decline in the number of mature individuals in the wild.