The olive tree spring.

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The olive tree spring.

Nature continues on its way.

We're now in the second half of June and the olive tree faces its most delicate vegetative period, that of the transformation of flowers into fruit, and our olive groves, for the most part non-irrigated, are preparing for a period of great uncertainty, even though the premises, according to the blooms, seem good. In a global picture of dark colours, the olive tree lives, as it does every year, through its most important season: flowering and mignolatura, pollination and fruit set. What future awaits it?

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Flowering and mignolatura.

Flowering in the olive tree occurs, according to the season, between the end of March and mid-April, and is the phase in which the bud blossoms into flowers, just as setting, which occurs between May and June, is the phase in which the flowers become small fruits. In the olive tree, as in any plant, bud formation can lead to a leaf, a branch or a flower. Some buds differ from the others, because instead of the plant developing into leaves or branches, they bring about flowering. These give rise to the mignola, a kind of cluster bearing several flowers. The colour of the petals varies from light green in the early stage to white in the late stage. There're three types of flower, the hermaphrodite ones, from which both male- and female-functioning flowers originate, the male-functioning ones producing pollen and the female-functioning ones consisting of an ovary that can be fertilised by pollen. Inside the ovary there are two loculi and one of these will house the seed from which the olive will arise.

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The olive tree is a tree species with anemophilous pollination, from the Greek anemos, wind, and filos, affine, which, producing a large quantity of powdery pollen moved by even the lightest wind, does not require the contribution of bees, or other insects and birds known as pronubes, which carry the pollen and provide pollination. In the course of evolution, the flowers of the olive tree have not developed colours, smells or nectar to attract pronubes and ensure cross-pollination, unlike the flowers of angiosperms, those plants in which the seeds are enveloped by a fruit that protects them and facilitates their dissemination, with entomophilous pollination by insects such as bees, characterised instead by bright colours and fragrant nectar rich in sugars. Pollination does not always match with fertilisation; it may occur in some cases that the ovary undergoes enlargement but does not become a true drupe. There are cases in which pollen from male flowers is able to fertilise female flowers of the same cultivar, and these are then called self-incompatible, just as there are self-compatible cultivars in which the female flowers need pollen from an olive tree of a different cultivar, called pollinators.

Fruit set.

Fruit set is the transformation of flowers into small fruits, which occurs with an increase in the size of the ovary and the dropping of imperfect or unfertilised flowers. In olive blossom only 1-2% of the flowers become olives and the fundamental reason for this selection is that the plant manages its resources to ensure its survival and fruit production. During fruit set, as well as during the flowering period, situations of water shortage can lead to abnormalities in flower formation, reduction in the number of inflorescences, abortion of the ovary and reduced fruit set, even if the stress is short-lived. That's why in these phases it's fundamental to monitor the water status of the olive grove since the flowering; in fact, irrigation increases the number of inflorescences, the percentage of fruit set and the number, size and water content of the fruit, decreasing the incidence of ovary abortion and fruit drop.

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Global winter.

We're at the door of a global food crisis that various international organisations estimate will affect hundreds of millions of people in different parts of the world. In some parts of the planet, severe droughts and heat waves have led to reduced harvests, with repercussions for the entire food system. In Italy, the water crisis resulting from climate change is evident for all and is also putting various agricultural sectors under severe strain; wheat, maize, tomato and rice fields are suffering severely from water shortages, and the late August temperatures have made the land dry. The nightmare of water rationing for food use is beginning to materialise for hundreds of communities in northern Italy, and the forecast for some areas in central Italy is no better.

What the future holds for us?