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As Eager Travelers Return, Italy Is Losing Its Prized Olive Trees

The Xylella fastidiosa bacterium has infected 20 million of the nation’s 150 million olive trees.

An olive branch uninfected by Xylella fastidiosa.

An olive branch uninfected by Xylella fastidiosa.

Photographer: Paulo Sousa / EyeEm

Italy’s tourism industry, which took a heavy battering from Covid-driven travel restrictions, is now faced with the loss of one of its most popular natural attractions. 

In early November 2021, the Italian government ordered the uprooting of 1,150 olive trees in the Piana degli Ulivi Monumentali (Plain of Monumental Olives) in Puglia, a southern Italian region that attracts millions of tourists and celebrities such as Madonna and George Clooney. The felled trees were infected with Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium that slowly chokes trees to death. It has already infected 20 of Italy’s 150 million olive trees, mostly in the region of Puglia, which used to contribute up to 50% of Italy's total annual olive oil production.