If you come to Rome you will likely quickly notice its pine trees. The trees slightly resemble something that Dr. Seuss would have dreamed up, with tall and skinny trunks supporting widespread canopies of needles high in the air. These are the stone pines of Rome, sometimes also called umbrella pines or parasol pines for their top-heavy appearance. If you want to be precise, the scientific name for the Roman trees is Pinus Pinea.
Rome’s iconic stone pines are a part of what makes the city so unique. It is impossible to imagine Rome without its soaring umbrella pines, which can be found on Palatine Hill, Villa Borghese, the Orange Garden, and countless places in between.
The stone pines are native to the Mediterranean in general, but the pine trees have come to be a symbol of Rome. You will see them regally spaced down Via dei Fori Imperiali, or lining the roadside of the Via Appia. In fact, after Mussolini planted the first umbrella pine in Piazza Venezia, he made sure to continue them in a line of 2,000 trees all the way down to the new Fascist-designed suburb of EUR.
The tall pines have been valued for the pine nuts since Ancient times and were supposedly brought to Italy by the Greeks. Their popularity continued for decades and in the Renaissance they became very fashionable ornamental garden trees.
The broad canopy is what gives the tree its “umbrella pine” name, which is what I usually refer to them as. The top of the trees can reach about 26 feet (8 meters) in width. They grow to an average of 40-60 feet tall but they can sometimes tower up to 80 feet above the ground.
The pines live for 50 to 150 years without many problems. However, that means that the trees planted by Mussolini starting in the late 1920s are now starting to fall. The city of Rome is tasked with the unenviable job of attempting to maintain the stone pines and prevent them from crashing into houses and cars when the wind picks up or when pests weaken the trunks and branches.
In Ancient Roman times, the health of the branches of the pines in the Forum were thought to predict the fortunes of the empire. Today, the evergreen stone pines are an essential part of the city’s panorama.
Are you also in love with the pine trees of Rome? If you want to see them for yourself, here are Rome’s best parks and gardens.