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Olive tree survival and adaptation to the harsh growing conditions in the arid desert environment of the Negev Highlands, Southern Israel


Twenty-three olive trees were found to grow in traditional orchard sites in the Negev Highlands desert, southern Israel. Their location was marked on maps, and their growth, morphology, biology, preservation and survival was monitored. Some of them are presently maintained by the Bedouin population of the Negev, whereas others seemed to have survived from earlier periods. The average annual rainfall in this region is 90-130 mm. Most of the orchards were deliberately planted in preexisting agricultural plots, built during the Byzantine and Early Muslim era (3rd-8th centuries CE). They were irrigated by harvesting runoff water. The Byzantine era was the most populated period in the Negev Highlands, when wine and olive oil were the main horticultural products. A variety of domesticated fruit trees are found in the present abandoned orchards: olive, fig, grapevine, pomegranate, almond, date palm, carob, pistachio and bitter orange. The trees have not been artificially irrigated for at least seven decades. Nevertheless, most of them continue to flourish and bear fruit. We focused on understanding the abandoned olive trees' survival and adaptation mechanisms. Olive trees growing was a favorite crop to Byzantine farmers due to the significant economic value of olive oil and good adaptation to the environmental conditions in the Negev Highlands. © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2018.