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Olives in Istria

Olive (Olea europaea L.) is one of the oldest cultivated plants characteristic of the Mediterranean area, where it is the most important oil-producing crop. The first historical records of olive growing in the Istrian region date from the first century BC. Istria is the largest Adriatic peninsula located in the north-west of the Adriatic Sea, with area shared by three countries: Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy. Surrounded by the sea from three sides and with northern border towards the continent, it has always been the natural link between Central Europe and the Mediterranean. Its favourable geographic position and Mediterranean climate have encouraged its long olive growing tradition and this area marks the northeastern limit of olive growing.

According to the latest official statistical data, a total of 600,000 olive trees are cultivated in Croatian Istria (Istrian Region web pages, 2003) and 300,000 olive trees on 1200 ha in Slovenia (estimation).

Although in Croatia, introduced, mostly Italian varieties predominate in new plantations, old autochthonous varieties have recently increased in importance due to their adaptation to local conditions, oil quality and consumers’ preference for typical olive oils with a specific origin. Preliminary surveys based on morphological data of olives showed the presence of various local olive varieties in old plantations in this area. Old local varieties exhibit significant biological variability, but knowledge about their origin, selection and level of molecular variability is still limited.

In Slovenia, variety ‘Črnica’ was the most grown olive variety (60-70% of all trees) in Ankaran peninsula at the end of the 19th century. Due to the better yielding properties growers decided to graft old varieties with ‘Istrska belica’ brought from Boljunc near Trieste and Osp. In the year 1956 following varietal structure was recorded in Sloven Istria: 'Črnica' (41,5%), 'Istrska belica' (28,3%), 'Drobnica' (12,5%), 'Buga' (9,4%) and other varieties (8,3%) such as 'Boiese' (syn. 'Boježe'), 'Štorta', 'Leccino', 'Toscana', 'Frantoio', 'Mata', 'Greca' (syn. Grossa di Spagna), 'Smartella', 'Črnica', 'Samec', 'Mišnica' and 'Dalamatinka' (Leskovec, 1956). After the big frost in 1956 has varietal structure changed in favour of ‘Istrska belica’ due to the grafting of old varietis ‘Drobnica’ and ‘Črnica’. Import of seedlings from Italy had also influence on shaping of the varietal structure in olive groves. Some of the Italian varieties have good properties and have been included on varieties recommended list after frost in 1985. In younger olive orchards varieties ‘Lecciono’ and pollinated variety ‘Pendolino’ can be found beside the ‘Istrska belica’.

In Slovene and Italian Istria, morphological descriptions as well as recent molecular characterization and studies of genetic relationships among local varieties have been used for varietal identification. In Croatian Istria, however, morphological data have been the only descriptors used to date for the identification of Istrian olive varieties.

The conservation and study of Istrian olive genetic resources is particularly important, both from the point of view of preserving biodiversity preservation and because of the advantages of local varieties, such as their high adaptation to local environmental conditions, and the high quality and specific characteristics of the oil.


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