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A tangle of branches bearing thorns grows on an olive tree at the home of Joe Black in Decatur. The family traces the tree's history to the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. Black said one woman has used cuttings to form a crown of thorns.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
A tangle of branches bearing thorns grows on an olive tree at the home of Joe Black in Decatur. The family traces the tree's history to the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. Black said one woman has used cuttings to form a crown of thorns.

Decatur tree from Mount of Olives, its owners say

By Melanie B. Smith
msmith@decaturdaily.com 340-2468

An olive tree, with branches gnarled and studded with thorns, grows inconspicuously behind a house in Decatur.

Odd enough as a tree with few other specimens around, this 60-year-old tree has a pedigree that links it with the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem.

Joe Black said his backyard olive on Eleventh Avenue Southeast has survived since the late 1940s.

He said his father, Lonnie Black, planted the tree as a sprout beside the homeplace. A photo from The Decatur Daily in the late 1950s or early 1960s shows Lonnie Black looking up at the tree.

Joe Black said the tree came through his brother, the Rev. John Otha Black, who got the tree from a missionary to the Holy Land.

The missionary brought it to the United States and told the minister that it came from the Mount of Olives.

Joe Black said his brother didn't want to plant the tree himself because ministers move around so much, so he brought it home to Decatur for their father to plant. The tree slowly grew to its current size, about that of a peach tree. It bears fruit but Joe Black and his wife, Mary Jo, said they don't try to harvest them. Birds get them first anyway, they said.

In the earlier Daily article, a nurseryman said olive trees were not supposed to survive here and speculated the Blacks' specimen was the only one in Alabama. Today, other olives grow in the state.

Joe Black said he does not know why the tree thrives. His father used to dump ashes near it from the fireplace in the original house, he said.

The tree sends out shoots that Joe Black said he usually cuts with his lawn mower. Several shoots that made their way to a flowerbed already have green buds.

Sprouts from the Blacks' olive are destined for Whitesburg Baptist Church's prayer garden. Their son, William Black, gave several to the Huntsville church. Whitesburg gardener Patti James said she's nurturing the saplings for now in her home garden and is glad to have them.

She said olives have been cultivated for 4,000 years, and trees can live hundreds of years.

The New Testament identifies the Mount of Olives as the place where Jesus withdrew to pray before his arrest and crucifixion.

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