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The secret of the Garden of Gethsemane

19.10.2012

The Cultural Association “Coltiviamo la Pace” of Florence request «Let’s adopt the Olive trees of Gethsemane”  aimed to study in depth and update knowledge on the 8 centuries-old olive trees in the «Garden of Gethsemane» in Jerusalem to promote activities in support of the Christian community in the Holy Land.

The project, of extraordinary importance for its religious, cultural and scientific expectations, obviously required interdisciplinary skills which were identified in five university departments [Agrarian and Environmental Sciences, Udine; “Leo Pardi” Evolutionary Biology and Agrarian Biotechnologies, Florence; Agrarian, Food and Agro-Environmental Sciences, Pisa; Laboratory of Ecology and Plant Physiology, Dept. of Evolutionary Biology, Florence; Laboratory of Commodities, University of Chieti - Pescara] and 3 Institutes of the National Research Council in the Scientific Pole of Sesto Fiorentino (Florence): Tree and Timber Institute; ‘Nello Carrara’ Institute of Applied Physics; Institute of Chemistry of Organometallic Compounds (Centre of Electronic Microscopes).

Aims of the project
1. The genetic profile of the 8 olive trees in the “Garden of Gethsemane”;
2. Estimate of the age of the trees;
3. Check-up on the state of health of the trees (A-B);
4. Assessment of the nutritional state of the 8 olive trees;
5. Description of the micro-morphological characteristics of the flowers, fruit, stones, with scanning electron microscope;
6. Qualitative and nutritional evaluation of the olive oil;
7. Physical and chemical characteristics of the oil;
8. Evaluation of the eco-physiological environment of “Gethsemane”.

In May 2009, with the first visit, the activities of the project started by taking samples of flowers, branches, leaves and roots from each of the 8 trees. The plant material was transferred to the competent laboratories for the following tests: [Genetic profile of the 8 olive trees; Check-up on the health of the individual plants; Assessment of their nutritional state; Description of the micro-morphological characteristics of the flowers, fruit and stones with environmental scanning electron microscope].
The second visit was organized in August 2010. The experts inspected the foliage and the trunks of the 8 olive trees and selected 3 for the  [Estimate of the epigean dating ]. A first geometric, auxological and dendrometric evaluation was made on them and subsequently small fragments of wood were taken from the innermost part of the trunk which were necessary to  integrate the dendrochronological dating with the dating established using the radiometric technique (radiocarbon).
In October 2011, a further visit to the “Garden” allowed completing “in situ” the: [Description of the morphological characteristics of the individual trees]; picking fruit from the 8 trees to extract oil and perform the : [Qualitative and nutritional evaluation and evaluation of the physical-chemical characteristics of the oil] and to take root and soil samples from different parts of the rhizosphere to : [Evaluate the eco-physiological environment of the  “Garden of Gethsemane

Summary of the results
1. Genetic profile (fingerprinting) of the 8 olive trees
The analyses of some regions of the DNA have described  “similar genetic profiles” between the 8 individuals and no differences were shown in the allelic profiles, not even amongst samples of leaves taken from different parts of the foliage. This conclusion shows the “peculiarity” that the eight trees belong to the same genotype.
2. Estimated age of the trees
The results of the integration of the dendrochronological dating with the radiometric technique (C14 radiocarbon dating) of the part of the trunk which is still present (technique performed using the Wiggle matching method)  converge in around the 12th century and leave little doubt that the epigean part of the three trees analysed  refers to the same period: Tree no. 1 (1198); Tree no. 4 (1092) and  Tree no. 7 (1166).
3. Check-up of the state of health of the individual trees (A-B)
The tests showed that none of the plants is infected by the 9 viruses sought or by 5 other ones not yet reported in the olive tree. The phytovirological condition is “excellent” therefore there are no reasons that can reduce their longevity or make the trees less productive or more  susceptible to other biotic and abiotic alterations.
4. Assessment of the nutritional state of the 8 olive trees
A good state of nutrition is confirmed in all 8 trees as well as the absence of any symptoms of particular deficiencies.
5. Description of the micro-morphological characteristics of flowers, fruit and stones
The analyses using a scanning electron microscope have increased the information on the specificities of the micro-morphological characteristics of different organs of the tree.
6. Qualitative and nutritional assessment of the oil
The oil has particular characteristics of fineness and fluidity; the sensory assessment revels a harmonious and non-aggressive flavour, with a middle aroma of ripe fruit, sweet almond and sensations of fruit.
7. Physical-chemical characteristics of the oil
The physical and chemical characteristics of the oils are sufficient to reinforce their particular geographical origin.
8. Assessment of the eco-physiological environment of the ”Hortus Gethsemani”
The trees do not show any presuppositions of phytotoxicity in response to the state of pollution of the ecosystem and it is confirmed that, at the present time, there is no situation that could reduce their longevity or make the olives more susceptible to other biotic and abiotic alterations.

Scientific Coordination
Dr. Antonio Cimato
Trees and Timber Institute
(IVALSA) – National Research Council
Via Madonna del Piano, 10
50019 Sesto Fiorentino (Florence - Italy)

Contact

Antonio Cimato, cimato@ivalsa.cnr.it, T +39 055 5225781, M +39 335 6225867 

 
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