Monday, January 25, 2016

Umbrella pines

"What a beautiful thing the stone pine is!" said Ford Madox Ford in The Good Soldier. I read that novel many years ago, in Castagneto Carducci (near Livorno), on the Tyrrhenian sea (west coast of Italy), where these trees (also known as umbrella pines) are common. When I first went to live in Italy at the age of seven, it was in fact in Livorno. I suspect my love for them derives from these early impressions. I have retained my attachment to the Maremma area ever since then.

Umbrella pines (Pinus pinea) are called pini marittimi in Italian, although this term is also used in Italy for Pinus pinaster. The latter are more cold-resistant, less lovely and do not produce the delicious (and expensive) edible pine nuts that Pinus pinea do. Edible pine nuts can also come from other species, such as the Chinese nuts, generally considered inferior to the Italian ones.

The beautiful tree is associated with rural and seaside areas, but it is of course also found in urban areas, notably Rome (Naples, too). The composer Ottorino Respighi, from Bologna, was also besotted by the wonderful plants, composing his famed I pini di Roma in 1924.