The oldest tree in Europe that has been scientifically dated to an accurate standard is a 1,230-year-old craggy pine in a popular national park in southern Italy. While an olive tree in a remote pocket of Sardinia has yet to be measured accurately enough for the claim of “oldest,” it is likely over three times as old.
Standing 14 meters tall with a trunk that measures 20 meters in circumference, the Patriarca Verde, or “Green Patriarch,” is estimated to be 3,800 years old, making it not only one of the oldest trees in Europe, but in the world as well. Locals call it S’Ozzastru, which in Sardo (Sardinian dialect) translates to “the wisdom of old age.” While the green giant (a female tree) is fenced off to prevent visitors from hanging on her branches, she neighbors a much younger male wild olive tree (a mere 2,500 years old), whose canopy visitors can enter to see its dense, twisting branches dip into and out of the ground.
While olive trees were first cultivated between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean, these are both wild olive trees. They’re characterized by stronger stems, wider leaves, and olives that are smaller and less juicy. While the ancient trees here produce olives that ripen in the late summer, visitors are discouraged from picking or collecting them.
The pair of older-than-Christ trees remain curiously unharvested despite Tuscan timbering that razed much of the surrounding forests. Traces of fire visible in their trunks, however, may indicate that their giant, dense canopies may have offered passing shepherds a place of refuge in foul weather.