The palm trees of Rome are dying.

Dead Palm Trees

Villa Pamphili, September 2012

This is, somehow, very sad to me, though my sadness is perhaps a bit illogical. They are not native. They’ve only been there two hundred years or so and were brought in to line the gardens of the Roman rich. It is not as though some native plant that grows nowhere else is being driven from the earth for all time. In fact, according to PRI, the cause of the recent affliction is the import in the last ten years of older, taller (already infested) trees to make coastal towns attractive to tourists.

Yet palm trees have become in the last centuries such a part of the Roman landscape that it is hard to imagine the city without them. And yet, of course, the signs are everywhere. The dead trees with the tops lopped off. The afflicted trees with the holes and the droopy heads.

Image by Didier Descouens

The culprit, by the way, is a nasty creature known as the red palm weevil. A rather large insect that I don’t wish to encounter which burrows into the tree. I’ve heard  that Rome’s trees will be killed off by 2015. The creature first hit Sicily in 2004 and has been ravaging the palms of Italy every since.

Still, this is a city whose mystery lies in all the transformations it has endured. A city that lives and breathes through so many incarnations –

What is truly sad to me, I suppose, is that I am no longer there and the city that I knew is changing without me. Like returning to your hometown and seeing all the new businesses in place of the old, there is something jarring about places that exist so perfectly still in memory living on without you. Egocentrism, I suppose. Rather funny and a bit humbling to think how silly that is when it comes to the Eternal City …


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