Xylella was identified for the first time in Salento in 2013, but it had probably already been present for a few years, and rapidly spread towards the north of Apulia. At the end of 2013, the Plant Protection Service of the Apulia Region estimated the area affected by the spread of the bacterium to be around 8,000 hectares. By the end of 2021, the area marked as being infected had reached over 140km in length, involving 40% of the territory of Apulia, and affecting the entire provinces of Lecce and Brindisi, half of the province of Taranto, and a few municipalities in the Bari area, putting the Piana degli Ulivi Monumentali at risk.
But where did it come from? The bacterium is believed to have arrived with a shipment of infected ornamental coffee plants from Costa Rica. Once in Salento, a series of favourable conditions helped it to spread: the climate, ideal for its survival; a widespread, continuous presence of olive trees, which revealed themselves to be the most susceptible hosts; and the abundant presence of the "meadow spittlebug".
And the damage was done.
Apulia's cultural heritage, which is also economically crucial, has been put at risk by a "fastidious" disease from Central America. As often happens with the appearance of new, unfamiliar events, the initial fight against Xylella fastidiosa had to struggle against manipulation, conspiracy theories that easily captured attention, and unclear and imprecise information, if not actual misinformation.