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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Oleaceae (olive family)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Core Eudicots > Asterids > Euasterid I > Order: Lamiales

There are 24 genera and 615 species worldwide (cosmopolitan but mainly East Asia), with five genera and 25 species native to southern Africa . There are an additional nine exotic genera and 50 species cultivated in southern Africa.

Distinguishing features

  • Woody plants with leaves opposite and without stipules. Leaves can be simple or odd-pinnately compound.
  • The twigs are often pale-coloured, contrasting with the dark petioles (leaf stalks).
  • There are superposed buds.
  • The stem is swollen at the nodes but there is no line across the node as is the case in the Gentianales and other members of the Lamiales that have opposite leaves.
  • Flowers usually have four of everthing (4-merous) but always have only two stamens. Petals are fused (sympetalous).

Information from Angiosperm Phylogeny Website.

Genera native to southern Africa

List from Victor (2000).


About 120 species worldwide, occurring in the tropics mainly. There are three species native to southern Africa.


Jasminum (jasmines)

About 450 species worldwide, found in Asia, Africa and Australia. Twelve species are native to southern Africa and an additional 18 species and one hybrid species are cultivated in southern Africa.


About 25 species, found mainly in America but also in southern Africa, where there are three species.


Olea (Olive genus)

Includes the Olive Olea europaea. There are about 50 species worldwide, found in the Mediterranean region, Africa, Asia and Mascarene Islands. Five species are native to southern Africa.

Olea capensis


About 10 species worldwide, found in Africa and India. There are two species native to southern Africa.


Other genera, cultivated in southern Africa

List from Glen (2002). The species name is provided in genera that have only one species cultivated in southern Africa.

Fontanesia philliraeoides

Native to China.



About 11 species, native mainly to eastern Asia but there is one species native to southeastern Europe. Four species and one hybrid are cultivated in southern Africa.


Fraxinus (ashes)

About 65 species, native mainly to the North Temperate regions. Ten species are cultivated in southern Africa.


Ligustrum (privets)

About 50 species, native to Europe, North Africa, and eastern and southeastern Asia through to Australia. Seven species and one hybrid are cultivated in southern Africa. Five species are declared Category 3 invasive plants in South Africa.


Noronhia emarginata

Native to Madagascar.


Nyctanthes arbor-tristis (Pavalamalli, Paarijaatham)

Native to India.



Four species and one hybrid cultivated in southern Africa.


Phyllyrea latifolia

Native to the Mediterranean.



Three species and three hybrids cultivated.



  • Victor, J.E. 2000. Oleaceae. In: Seed Plants of Southern Africa (ed. O.A. Leistner). Strelitzia 10: 428-429. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.

  • Glen, H.F. 2002. Cultivated Plants of Southern Africa. Jacana, Johannesburg.

Text by Hamish Robertson