Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Oleaceae, Olive Family

Representatives of the Oleaceae Family include shrubs, trees and some lianas. This family is wide spread throughout much of the world and the greatest diversity of species is Southeast Asia and Australia. Other areas with large numbers of species include Africa, China and North America.

The Oleaceae is considered an ancient family with some species, isolated by geographic barriers, remained unchanged for long periods of time. The Olive tree (Olea europaea) is a good example of a species that botanists believe, and molecular phylogenetic studies show has remained unchanged for 6,000 to 7,000 years.

The leaves in Oleaceae are simple or compound, either pinnately or ternately, opposite, deciduous or evergreen. Flowers often bisexual and actinomorphic, inflorescence a raceme or panicle, flowers often fragrant.

Important members of this family include the Olive (Olea) and Ash (Fraxinus) trees, Lilac (Syringa), Jasmine (Jasminum) and Forsythia (Forsythia) bushes as well as the popular privet (Ligustrum).

Fruits are variable and may include berries, drupes, capsules or samaras. The type of fruit is key to the specific seed dispersal strategy. For example birds and animals primarily distribute the berry, drupe and some capsule fruits while the samaras and some seeds from capsules are wind-blown.

Species of Oleaceae contained within The Plant List belong to 25 plant genera. The Plant List includes 2,661 scientific plant names of species rank for the family Oleaceae. Of these 688 are accepted species names.

The United States is well represented with native species in Oleaceae from the following genera: Chionanthus, Forestiera, Forsythia, Fraxinus, Jasminum, Ligustrum, Menodora and, Syringa.

Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, each have, respectively; 11, 12, 13 and 28 species in Oleaceae.

  • Fraxinus velutina, Velvet Ash
  • Menodora scabra, Rough Menodora
  • References:
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database – ITIS search
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 12/14/2105).
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Oleaceae', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 November 2015, 00:11 UTC, [accessed 13 December 2015]