Some of Spain’s olive trees are over a thousand years old and that makes them valuable garden ornaments for rich folks in the Middle East, the U.S., and even Northern Europe. If you’re an olive grower, or just have a tree on your property, the deal is hard to resist. The trees can sell for up to $44,000, a tempting sum in a country with a 25% unemployment rate. In Portugal, one tree sold to a French millionaire for over $70,000.
The Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente Foundation is trying to stop the export of these unique trees, likening the practice to the American plundering of Spain’s Romanesque churches in the 19th century. The foundation has launched a petition to protest the uprooting and sale of these trees, which are not protected by law in most of Spain.
According to the foundation, France and Italy have banned the sale and export of ancient trees. Valencia, Spain, has prohibited the export of trees over 350 years old or more than 20 feet in diameter since 2006, but in other Spanish provinces trees of any age can be uprooted and sold like any other property. Greece and Portugal are similarly vulnerable.
There are other ways to make money from these old trees. Some are now, somewhat ironically, major tourist attractions because of their age. The oil, says the foundation “is sold at unbelievable prices.”
Once torn from their soil, the trees will not survive for another thousand years. Yet one buyer of two trees, German Karl Heinz Maier, claimed to AFP that ripping up trees is actually good for the environment. “I no longer have need to board a plane, I can stay home and enjoy my olive trees. It is less polluting for the planet,” he said.
To keep these trees alive in Germany’s icy winters, they are wrapped in a thick mattress made of fibers and plastic canvas, and warmed with an electric heater. It’s a little like capturing tropical birds, and bringing them to live in a heated greenhouse in a northern country.
The foundation’s online petition can be found here.