University Receives Donation of Ancient Olive Varieties

The seedlings, which were recently donated by Banco Santander, will be studied before given new life when they are planted at the Rabanales University campus.

Banco Santander
Feb. 28, 2019
By Rosa Gonzalez-Lamas
Banco Santander

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The Uni­ver­sity of Cór­doba in Spain has received a dona­tion of olive seedlings from uncat­a­logued ancient olive vari­eties.

They will be clas­si­fied and pre­served at the university’s Olive Germplasm Bank.

The seedlings, which were donated by Banco San­tander, came from the vari­etal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion research work the University’s Higher Tech­ni­cal School of Agri­cul­tural Engi­neer­ing and Forestry (ETSIAM) con­ducted on Banco Santander’s ancient olive tree col­lec­tion.

See more: Mil­lenary Olive Seeds Found in Turkey

Located at the bank’s head­quar­ters in Boad­illa del Monte in Madrid, this col­lec­tion is con­sid­ered the world’s most impor­tant pri­vate col­lec­tion of olive trees.

The agree­ment between Banco San­tander and the university’s UCOLIVO group has so far enabled the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of more than 200 cen­te­nary and mil­lenary olive trees in the col­lec­tion.


Researchers applied mor­pho­log­i­cal and mol­e­c­u­lar mark­ers for the analy­sis of the trees, the major­ity of which were spec­i­mens of known vari­eties, includ­ing Farga and Lechín de Granada.

The research revealed three rel­e­vant major find­ings. They iden­ti­fied nine known olive vari­eties that are prob­a­bly among the old­est.

They also detected a pat­tern of high fre­quency graft­ing done with wild olive trees in ancient times.

Finally, they dis­cov­ered the exis­tence of mil­lenary vari­eties that had not yet been cat­a­logued, but whose resis­tance over time sug­gests they are excel­lent spec­i­mens to study, specif­i­cally for the traits that affect their longevity. This could be instru­men­tal for the improve­ment and sus­tain­abil­ity of olive crops.

The university’s UCOLIVO group has been work­ing on the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Banco Santander’s olive vari­ety col­lec­tion since 2013.

Banco Santander’s olive tree col­lec­tion started in the early 2000s with the bank’s for­mer pres­i­dent, Emilio Botín. He began a search for very high qual­ity olive trees to be planted at the bank’s new head­quar­ters and con­sid­ered nature as a vehi­cle to cre­ate a work­ing envi­ron­ment that made employ­ees more com­fort­able and more pro­duc­tive.

Experts helped the now deceased Botín to assem­ble the col­lec­tion of olive trees, which orig­i­nally came from Spain, Por­tu­gal, Italy and North Africa. Botín began buy­ing cen­te­nary olive trees for the col­lec­tion as a means to pro­tect them from being cut.

The col­lec­tion extends over more than 350 acres and has some 1,500 trees, one-third of which are mon­u­men­tal and sin­gu­lar, includ­ing mil­lenary olive trees. A team of pro­fes­sion­als over­sees and mon­i­tors the trees, con­duct­ing strict peri­od­i­cal con­trols of their devel­op­ment and phy­tosan­i­tary con­di­tion.

The trees that grow from the donated seedlings will be planted at the Rabanales Uni­ver­sity cam­pus where more than half of the world’s 1,200 olive vari­eties are pre­served.

Prior to this exer­cise con­ducted by UCOLIVO, Banco San­tander had already worked with Spain’s Higher Coun­cil for Sci­en­tific Research (CSIC) to com­plete the world’s first full DNA sequenc­ing of an olive tree, a mil­lenary tree, a copy of which was also donated by the bank to the Uni­ver­sity of Cór­doba for its incor­po­ra­tion into the Olive Germplasm Bank.

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