December is not really the time to go wildflower hunting in Italy, but I happened to be there for other reasons last week, and kept one eye on the lookout for things botanical. Of course, Italy isn’t exactly buried in snow in December. Except for the high mountains, the country enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate – there are palm trees all over the place! So it’s like California or Florida; there’s always some kind of plant life.
|The uniquely shaped pines of Rome, photographed |
here in Florence, are Pinus pinea.
|Italian cypress trees mingle with olive trees|
The most common palm is the windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, a native of China and one of the most cold-hardy palms (see “The many uses of Trachycarpus” in my publication list). Along the coast are majestic specimens of the Canary Island Date Palm, Phoenix canariensis, which is a staple of the Riviera landscape. A palm native to parts of the Mediterannean coastal scrub is the European Fan Palm, Chamaerops humilis, of which I think I got a glimpse from the bus as we headed for Pisa. I’m sure that if we’d gone further south, we would have seen many more cultivated palms.
|The windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, on a hillside in Florence.|
|Olives ripen throughout the Fall in Italy.|
December is the time for fruit. There are ripening olives (Olea europea), as well as the bright red fruits of holly, Pyracanthus, and Nandina, not to mention the edible fruits of the tree strawberry, Arbutus unedo. The bright red color of many of these fruits attracts hungry birds, who in exchange for the meal carry the seeds in their guts until they relieve themselves in a new location.
|Holly berries ripen just in time for Christmas.|