15 May 2015

New epidemic decimating Italian olive trees

Across the stony heel of Italy, a peninsula ringed by the blue-green waters of the Mediterranean, olive trees have existed for centuries, shaping the landscape and producing some of the nation’s finest olive oils. Except now many of the trees are dying.

Sprinkled among the healthy trees are clusters of sick ones, denuded of leaves and standing like skeletons, their desiccated branches bereft of olives. The trees are succumbing to a bacterial outbreak that is sweeping across one of Italy’s most famous olive regions, as families that have manufactured olive oil for generations now fear ruin, even as officials in the rest of Europe fear a broader outbreak.

“It is devastating,” said Enzo Manni, director of ACLI-Racale, an olive cooperative in the heart of the outbreak area. “It is apocalyptic. I compare it to an earthquake.”

Today, scientists estimate that 1 million olive trees in the peninsula, known as the Salento, are infected with the bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa, a figure that could rise rapidly. The bacterium steadily restricts water flow from the roots of a tree to its branches and leaves.
More details at the StarTribune. The bacterium "is believed to have arrived with plants imported from Costa Rica and has destroyed citrus trees in Brazil and vineyards in California."

Photo credit: Davide Monteleone/The New York Times.


  1. Based upon your headline, the trees are being killed at a rate of one out of every ten (decimation). The problem seems a bit greater than that.

    1. "The Cambridge Guide to English Usage states that the nonspecific use of this word to mean devastate or severely reduce the numbers of is "nowadays the commonest use of the word in both British and American English, and it’s registered without comment in modern dictionaries.""


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