The Olive Oil Times has reported an outbreak of every olive cultivator’s worst nightmare: Xylella fastidiosa, known as the “Ebola of olive trees.” In every case, the disease reroutes the trees’ water and nutrient transport systems to bypass the absorption stage, and the tree rapidly wastes from what’s known as “olive quick decline syndrome.” This strain of bacteria causes the desiccation of new shoots, infects other plants as well as olives, and is extremely contagious. If one tree in a grove becomes infected, the rest are certain to follow.
Infection has been reported in cherry trees on the Spanish island of Mallorca, where 100,000 liters of olive oil are produced annually. Fifteen thousand hectares of the potential infection zone (about 37,000 acres) have been placed under a plant-material movement ban by agriculture officials in an attempt to keep the pathogen from spreading to other parts of Spain and Europe. First discovered in southeastern Italy in 2013, Xylella fastidiosa wiped out a huge number of olive trees before spreading to the South of France.