The Patriarchs of the Woods

The monumental trees within the woods of the Presidential Estate of Castelporziano


Natural pool, Castelporziano Presidential EstateQuirinale Palace

Over the last 10 years, growing attention to environmental problems and nature conservation has contributed to a greater commitment to safeguarding ancient trees, which constitute an important component of the landscape of Italy.

There are 12 billion trees in Italy, not counting those scattered throughout fields, large and small.

Cork oak, Castelporziano Presidential EstateQuirinale Palace

There are some among these that have reached an exceptional size over the centuries, defying adverse climatic conditions, damage caused by animals, and the carelessness of humans.

Monumental tree in the woods of Castelporziano Presidential estateQuirinale Palace

There are a few thousand specimens dispersed throughout different areas that have a high esthetic, cultural, and natural value, and that are an expression of not only the biodiversity of the countryside, but also the history of populations from the Roman period to the present day.

Natural pool, Castelporziano Presidential EstateQuirinale Palace

Some majestic examples may also be found within the woods of Castelporziano. Twenty-four monumental trees have been surveyed and included within the official register at the Ministry of Agricultural, Food, and Forestry Policy.

Arboreal phyllirea in the Strada Selciatella areaQuirinale Palace

The estate's former function as a game reserve has also contributed to the preservation of many specimens.

Oak tree, Castelporziano Presidential EstateQuirinale Palace

In the past, in order to ensure nourishment for animals of interest to hunters, particular attention was paid to the safeguarding of trees that produced berries, fruit, and acorns.

Cork in the Capocotta areaQuirinale Palace

A forestry environment was therefore preserved that was rich in centuries-old specimens, which were difficult to observe elsewhere.

Holm oak in the Capocotta areaQuirinale Palace

The monumental trees within the Castelporziano protected area are great representatives of natural and countryside heritage, and, as such, are featured within botanical/forestry itineraries created to enable visitors to the Estate to get close to these ancient specimens and get to know them.

To this end, the patriarchs of the woods have been inventoried in order to take note of the most imposing specimens.

Detail of trunk of monumental treeQuirinale Palace

The trees and shrubs considered monumental are those of greatest botanical and forestry importance, which present exceptional dimensions, particular shapes, historical/cultural interest, esthetic value, and belong to species deemed to be rare for the environment being studied.

Cork in the Capocotta areaQuirinale Palace

The green patriarchs exercise a strong attraction: each of them is unique and exclusive, and inspires a reverential respect. Direct observation is also extremely useful for the purposes of the environmental education of young people.

The opportunity to be able to get close to some of these trees within an almost entirely natural context, and to be able to visually appreciate their grandeur and majesty, arouses amazement and wonder at their exceptional size and centuries-old age.

Arboreal phyllirea in the Strada Selciatella areaQuirinale Palace

Some of them have cavities or twisted roots, are often wrapped in very high climbing ivy, and provide shelter for insects and birds, as well as to the rare marten that hunts among the foliage.

Generations of winged creatures have nested in them over the centuries: large raptors within the highest and most inaccessible branches, small insectivores within the most hidden foliage, woodpeckers and hoopoes within barely visible holes.

Martens and dormice seek shelter within the deepest cavities, while wild boar and fallow deer find resting spots at the base.

Detail of the holm oak roots on the remains of an anciten Roman constructionQuirinale Palace

The Holm oak

Each tree has its own specific nature. In some cases, the green patriarchs are jealous custodians of archeological finds, which were protected by dense vegetation before being brought to light, such as, for example, the holm oak at Capocotta, the roots of which grow around the remains of an ancient Roman-period construction, creating an unusual and evocative setting.

Holm oak in the Capocotta areaQuirinale Palace

This magnificent, centuries-old (700–800-year-old) holm oak is 89 feet (27 m) tall and has a circumference of 13.94 feet (4.25 m). The trunk, mighty and elongated, grows horizontally and provides support for numerous ascending branches, creating foliage that is integrated into the same level as the surrounding plants.

Arboreal phyllirea in the Strada Selciatella areaQuirinale Palace

The phillyrea

Some plants are similarly significant for their shape. One of these is the phillyrea at Selciatella, a species of shrub that, because of its longevity, has taken on an exceptional and unusual arboreal appearance, reaching a height of 46 feet (14 m).

The phillyrea is a specimen of considerable esthetic value: it consists of three main stems, firmly joined together to form a single compact, sturdy, and gnarled trunk.

Turkey oak in the Ponte del Cerasolo areaQuirinale Palace

The Turkish oak

Meanwhile, the centuries-old monumental Turkish oak, which boasts a height of 85 feet (26 m) and a circumference of 18.7 feet (5.7 m), is characterized by a trunk that is almost totally covered by a thick interweaving of moss and lichen.

Cork in the Capocotta areaQuirinale Palace

The candelabra cork oak

There are also cork oaks within the woods on the estate. One of these has a squat and sturdy trunk, which supports ascending branches of considerable size. It is called candelabra because of the appearance given to it by its ample foliage, which extends in all directions.

Eucalyptus in the Castello areaQuirinale Palace

The eucalyptus

The patriarchs are not only found in the woods.

A monumental eucalyptus has grown in isolation in the castle garden, 82 feet (25 m) high, and of considerable historical interest: it is held to be one of the foremost specimens planted in Italy, grown from seed imported directly from Australia during previous centuries.

Credits: Story

With thanks to the National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA), and in particular the photographers Alessandro Calabrese and Ivan Consalvo.

Credits: All media
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