16 August 2010

Q: What's 100,000 years old, lives underwater, & hails from a Mediterranean party spot?

The time has come to embark on another OLTW adventure (thanks to my beloved Kickstarter supporters!), this time to the chaparral biome of the Mediterranean, where I'll have my sights set on 3 different organisms comfortably over the 2,000 year mark: an ancient Olive tree in Crete, the surprisingly deciduous addition of the Castagno dei Cento Cavalli (that's "Chestnut of 100 Horses") in Sicily, and the object of the above riddle: 100,000-year-old Posidonia Oceanica sea grass living off the coast of Ibiza of all places. (More about that below.)  As you can see on my OLTW map, they're practically neighbors.

My first stop is actually Budapest, for an exhibition entitled "Neglected Corners of the World", where my work will appear along side artists Bukta Imre and Suzanne Nagy. (Do drop by 2B Galeria for the opening reception if you're in Budapest September 1st.) Then stay tuned starting the week of September 6th: first stop, bottom of the boot. 

In the mean time, here's a little more 411 on these upcoming additions to the OLTW family:


Found in a little town in Sicily just outside the bounds of park that's home to Mt Etna, resides the Chestnut of 100 Horses. I was surprised to learn about this chestnut, with age claims ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 years, because most of the trees that I've found in this age range tend to be evergreens, not deciduous. (Though the Baobabs, as usual, are a good exception to the rule.)

I'm hoping the Botanical department at the University of Catania will be able to share some of their research with me.  In the mean time, Wikipedia provided this lovely gouache illustration by Jean-Pierre Houel of the tree from 1777, as well as an exposition of the origin of the tree's name. As the story goes, the queen of Aragon and her 100 knights (no, it has nothing to do with Middle Earth), were caught unprepared in a severe thunderstorm on their way to Mt Etna. The tree saved the day, providing shelter for the queen and her entire company under its massive canopy.


No, that's no type-0. The clonal Posidonia Oceanica really is 100,000 years old (check out EOL for a few snaps). And if that weren't impressive enough, this sea grass lives between the islands of Formentera and Ibiza -- better known for its international club scene than for its conservation. 

I'm very excited to be meeting up with the team of biologists who discovered the clone by chance while doing some field research on the endemic grasses. They've invited me to join them on this next trip into the field...err...ocean, and hence for my second foray into the depths, I'll be making my art along side their science.


Last but not least on the agenda is an ancient olive tree, with all signs pointing toward it being the oldest in the world.  There are ancient olive trees in Portugal, Israel and Palestine (both which claim the oldest) around the 2,000-year mark, but from what I've gathered pre-visit, the tree in Crete sits somewhere in the 3,000 to 4,000-year range. I'm hoping that some contacts at the University of Crete will help shine some accuracy on the estimates.

According to the internets [YIK], apparently this tree had a rather sordid past as a dog kennel in its partially hollowed-out trunk, but has since cleaned up its act, and can now boast that its branches have been the source of some recent and future Olympic wreaths. 

More on that from the field....


Nikki Rose said...

Dear Rachel,

It's wonderful that you are coming to Crete. I work here on educational programs focusing on cultural and natural heritage preservation. A lot of that has to do with food.

All the best,
Nikki Rose
Crete's Culinary Sanctuaries

Mike Nelson Pedde said...

Wonderful work, Rachel. BTW, are you familiar with Jerome Hutin's work?



Anonymous said...

I just watched your TED talk. Great work! Thanks!
How is the age of these organisms determined? I know about the tree rings, but what about corals, bushes, and bacteria? Thanks,