By Frank van Steenbergen
August 28, 2020
Postcard from Vouves in the Municipality of Kolymivari in Eastern Crete in Greece
Here stand one of the oldest olive trees, with beautiful knots and twists, as if finding a way through time. The Vouves tree is between 3000 to 4000 years old. If it could remember things, its first memories would be from Minoan times, the high Cretan culture as reported in the Odyssey.
The rootstock of the Vouves olive tree is of the common wild Olea Oleaster, with the Mastoeidis/ Tsounati variety grafted on it. Olives are food miracles. Next to honey and cheese, they are the staple of the Bible and at the heart of the Mediterranean diet, that is said to be the key to health at old age.
They way olives grow is enigmatic. They may yield or not yield in a year – seeming to have a mind of their own. Many olives self-propagate with early shootings developing into a staminate flower and pollen pistil. However many factors may prevent pollen pistils from developing – water stress, the absence of a cold period, a fire – all this may mean a year with almost no harvest.
Olives like hardship – they prefer poor soils to good soils, hard sunshine to shade. They tolerate drought very well, courtesy their extensive root system. The Vouves trees is a prime example. Olive trees can live for several centuries and can remain productive for as long if they are pruned correctly and regularly.
Touching the ancient Vouves olive tree feels like one is in touch with the solid root of life, the viriditas hard as a stone. After 3000 years the ancient Vouves tree still yields olives – some 50 kilograms a year – and olive oil is pressed from it.
In the ancient Olympic gates the winners were crowned with the kotinos – a laurel of olive twigs. These twigs were cut by a golden scissors. The practice (without the golden scissors) was reintroduced at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, the marathon winner of the Olympic marathon was crowned with an olive wreath. The twigs of this special olive wreath were collected from the ancient Vouves tree, the oldest of olives. This practice then continued in subsequent Games.