Silent witnesses of history, Italy’s millenary olive trees have proven their resilience over time. Local organizations are working to protect them from climate change.
In some regions of Italy, it is not uncom­mon to come across majes­tic olive trees dat­ing back more than a thou­sand years.
Their huge diam­e­ters, twisted trunks and shapes molded through cen­turies enchant tourists while assum­ing a sym­bolic mean­ing for local com­mu­ni­ties as part of col­lec­tive mem­o­ries and tra­di­tions.
Silent wit­nesses to his­tory, these giants rep­re­sent a remark­able exam­ple of nature’s resilience, capa­ble of sur­viv­ing frost, drought, wild­fire and light­ning, which has been known to split tree trunks in two.
Yet, in some con­di­tions, they can bear fruit for hun­dreds of years, yield­ing pre­cious oil.
Over the years, some of these trees have been named, such as the Queen of Salento in Puglia. For more than 1,400 years, its foliage has shaded the sur­round­ings, and who­ever comes to touch its bark, locals say, feels sur­rounded by a pow­er­ful energy.
Then, there is the Olive of the Witch in Tuscany, a 1,700 year-old-tree that stands in an olive grove in Grosseto. The ancient tree owes its name to a leg­end that says witches used to gather around it to per­form their mag­i­cal rites.
With an esti­mated age of 4,000 years, the Patriarch of Nature in Luras, Sardinia, is con­sid­ered one of the old­est olive trees in Italy, con­tend­ing for pri­macy with Olivone (lit­er­ally mean­ing the big olive tree) in Palombara Sabina, a few kilo­me­ters away from Rome.
After an acci­dent uprooted part of the trunk in 2009, the inhab­i­tants of the area have made great efforts to pre­serve and restore the mil­lenary tree.
Taking a photo beneath its majes­tic canopy has been a local tra­di­tion for young cou­ples on their wed­ding days and is meant to bring peace and pros­per­ity to their futures.
A her­itage to be pro­tected and val­orized, these trees are now threat­ened by cli­mate change and land man­age­ment.
For exam­ple, a mas­sive fire in July 2021 dam­aged the impres­sive Sa Tanca Manna olive tree in Cuglieri, Sardinia. However, after the excep­tional restora­tion work done by a team of botanists and vol­un­teers, new shoots have sprung from the tree’s trunk.
Many peo­ple said we were wast­ing our time try­ing to revive it,” said Gianluigi Bacchetta, the direc­tor of the University of Cagliari’s botan­i­cal gar­den. Instead, we based our strat­egy on a series of actions that have proved suc­cess­ful, com­bin­ing mulching, emer­gency irri­ga­tion, amino acids to stim­u­late the restora­tion of root func­tion­al­ity, and pro­tect­ing the trunk with jute sheets and an upper cov­er­ing to sim­u­late the crown that was gone.”
Around the coun­try, local vol­un­teer asso­ci­a­tions assume respon­si­bil­ity for pro­tect­ing and restor­ing these trees while spread­ing the cul­ture of slow tourism and land­scape con­ser­va­tion.
Enzo Suma is among the founders of Millenari di Puglia, an asso­ci­a­tion based in Ostuni, in the province of Brindisi, that has worked on envi­ron­men­tal edu­ca­tion for more than 10 years.
Puglia is the Italian region with the high­est num­ber of mon­u­men­tal olive trees: 350,000, accord­ing to the regional list avail­able on the web­site of the Regione Puglia,” he said. We work for the tute­lage of this unique land­scape by orga­niz­ing excur­sions and guided tours through­out the year and dis­sem­i­na­tion activ­i­ties espe­cially devoted to schools.”
Thousands of peo­ple had by now attended our events: a large part is stu­dents, but also fam­i­lies, tourists and cit­i­zens,” Suma added.
Intending to add value to the olive oil pro­duced in the region from mon­u­men­tal trees, the asso­ci­a­tion also works with other coun­tries in the Mediterranean, such as Spain.
Millenari di Puglia recently teamed up with a sim­i­lar orga­ni­za­tion in Sénia, Catalonia, to orga­nize the Giants of Puglia Award, a com­pe­ti­tion to draw atten­tion to mil­lenary trees around the region.
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