Opening photo: A close-up photo of one of the two 300-year-old monumental plane trees. Photo by Alessandro Corradini
By Dennis E. Nice
Embassy Rome garners a great deal of interest because of its well-documented historical significance. Recently, Rome’s Botanical Gardens tree experts took an interest in the horticulturally significant grounds of the Via Veneto compound—where the American embassy is situated—in particular, to clone two 300-year-old monumental plane trees (also referred to as Old World Sycamore) to maintain and protect the species.
“The Botanical Garden chose these trees because they are two monumental plane trees of the Villa Ludovisi and because they belong to a species native to Italy, cultivated in Rome since ancient times,” said Professor Tarquini Flavio, scientific coordinator of the Rome Botanical Gardens. “These two old plane trees of the embassy are important from a botanical and conservation point of view. They are also significant because they are witnesses to the Villa Ludovisi.”
Drawings of the property from 1760 show the grounds with the two existing mature monumental plane trees (platanus orientalis). When the villa was subdivided in 1885, only the Casino dell’Aurora and the Villa Ludovisi with the Triton Fountain and the two ancient trees remained. The trees, still in their original location flanking the Triton Fountain, have a circumference of 22.6 and 16 feet and stand approximately 40 feet tall.
Approximately two thousand years ago, the embassy property was owned by Roman historian and politician Gaius Sallustius Crispus and later belonged to Roman emperors. During the Medieval and Renaissance periods, the gardens were turned into vineyards.
The chancery, named Palazzo Margherita, was the home of Queen Margherita of Savoy (1906 to 1926) and later housed the offices of the National Fascist Confederation of Agriculture. In 1946, the U.S. government purchased the palazzo to establish the American embassy. Since its restoration, the buildings and compound have been protected both by the Italian Cultural Heritage law and the Department of State’s Register of Culturally Significant Property. The Register includes the grounds and Villa Ludovisi—named for the family who created the property in the early 1600s.
To help preserve this history, two technicians from the Rome Botanical Gardens used a process called “vegetative reproduction,” a form of asexual reproduction in which a new plant grows from a fragment of the parent plant. One advantage of this process is that a plant can pass favorable genetic information to its offspring. The new plants will be cultivated for at least a year before being planted at the Botanical Gardens, the embassy, and Villa Taverna—the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Rome. Tarquini said his team also plans to clone trees from the Botanical Gardens and Villa Borghese to conserve this exceptional species.
“Beyond having an important historical and scientific value, the cloning of the two secular plane trees on the embassy compound and the birth of other trees generated from the twigs of these trees will help continue the centuries-old species in Rome,” said Maintenance and Operations Supervisor Gabriele Di Mario. “But also, this new collaboration strengthens the 30-plus-year professional relationship that links the U.S. embassy with the city of Rome and the Rome Botanical Garden.”
Dennis E. Nice is the facilities manager at Embassy Rome.