The oldest and biggest Olive Tree

Not far from the Temple of Demeter, where the gravel road leading to the Fortress of Apalírou begins, one can visit an ancient spring (Brysi Adisárou) in a small valley covered with plane trees.

This small path leads to the spring Brysi Adisárou.

The ancient spring has recently been restored. It has water all year round.

Nearby lies this small new chapel of Ágios Isídoros.

But what makes this place really worth a visit is an ancient olive tree, the diameter of which is much larger than that of the supposedly oldest olive tree in Kolymbari in Crete. It is difficult to determine the age of an olive tree, because they don’t usually form regular growth rings, and because in old trees the trunk is often hollowed out or has been replaced by younger trunks that grow from the same root. Our tree is completely hollowed out inside, as it is often the case with old olives trees. So we have to try to guess its age based on its diameter. The smallest diameter of this Methuselah amounts to 5 metres. In the lagest direction the diameter even reaches more than 10 meters! The circumference of the entire giant amounts to almost 24 metres.

Here is our gigantic olive tree. Inside, the giant is completely hollowed out, which often happens with old olive trees. It looks like separate trunks standing in a circle, but all trunks are in fact the same tree. We look either at what is left over of a trunk that has fallen apart, or more likely the original tree trunk has disappeared completely and what we see today are “new” shoots grown in a circle out of the root. However that may be, the size of the root shows the tree’s true size even after the trunk has been lost.

In some old olive trees in the Tragaía, the trunk begins to decay in a similar way.

From the roots of the olive trees often grow new shoots which develop into whole trunks if they are not cut away.

In this tree the original trunk has been cut, while the shoots that grow from the root are developing into a circle of trunks just as in our methuselah.

Despite its age, the tree still seems to be healthy and strong. It feels quite intimidating to stand next to it – how ephemeral we are compared to these beings that have seen centuries and centuries of human history pass by!

The thickest tree in the world is said to be a swamp cypress in Mexico with a circumference of 14 metres. The olive trees in the garden of Gethsemane, estimated to be 1000 to 2000 years old, have a diameter of not much more than one metre. The age of the olive tree in Kolymbari, 3.64 metres in diameter and 12 metres in circumference, is estimated at 5000 years. Even if you estimate the age of this tree as only the same as that (though it is certainly more than double in size), it must certainly date from the Bronze Age. From this early time we have hardly any evidence that olive trees existed or were cultivated in the Cyclades. Also another interesting question arises here because as far as I know no wild olive trees exist that reach any noteworthy age. The extreme longevity of the olive trees seems somehow to be related to their cultivation which usually means that the tree has been grafted.

By the way, it is also of interest to use this tree in order to establish the soil erosion that has taken place in the thousands of years since its youth: The former base of the trunk is about a metre above today’s ground level. This is actually quite a small change.

Here a photograph of an article by Jannis Beronis, who states that the agricultural advisor Giorgos Kostellenos is of the opinion that this tree must be more than 5000 years old (i.e. from the early Minoan period), making it the oldest (known) olive tree in the world; the article refers to the importance of this tree for the history of the cultivation of olives, as well as to the fact that the tree should be protected as a monument and landmark. I thank Karin Valentin for the photo and the note!

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