Rome’s iconic pine trees under threat from sap-eating parasite

By Gonzalo Sanchez

Rome, Jul 5 (EFE).- Rome’s umbrella pine trees have long been an icon of the ancient Italian city, but a voracious sap-eating parasite is threatening to devour thousands of trees as local authorities battle against the clock to save the capital’s green spaces.

The pinus pinea are strong specimens that have thrived in arid and sun-drenched soil, becoming emblematic of the wider Lazio region.

But the trees have come under attack from pine tortoise scale, a pest that was first spotted in Rome’s parks and forests in 2018, having arrived from the neighboring Campania region in southern Italy.

The parasites have since infected thousands of trees.

“Unfortunately Rome has been affected by this insect, the cochineal, which has attacked the city’s pine trees, also because they are trees of a certain age,” Agriculture, Environment and Waste Cycle councilor Sabrina Alfonsi tells Efe.

The parasite, originally from North America, penetrates the wood, killing the tree while reproducing at a tremendous speed.

Each adult female is capable of producing between 200 and 300 eggs that are then easily transported by the wind.

It has become increasingly common to see many umbrella-shaped trees drying up with decayed branches collapsing on the street.

Progressive mayor Roberto Gualtieri, who has been in office since October 2021, has made it a priority to save the capital’s green spaces after the “delays” of the previous local government.

To this end, Gualtieri has launched immunotherapy treatment for the ailing trees which consists of dousing the parasite with an insecticide called abamectin.

Authorities have been able to cure some 48,000 pines of the 50,000 affected trees using that method, although many died before the treatment was rolled out across the city.

This is the case of the pine forest of Monte Antenne, which has been almost entirely decimated, although the city council is now undertaking the park’s reforestation with other types of trees.

“We will prevent this phenomenon from continuing to spread. At the moment it still remains, but it has been slowed by the pines that prevented contagion after dying,” the councilor adds.

The town hall has earmarked 100 million euros to repopulate its parks and gardens with trees and for environmental projects, as part of the Horizon Europe project which aims to ensure 100 cities in the European Union become climate neutral by 2030.

Trees capable of absorbing carbon dioxide from the air are instrumental to reaching that goal.

But it is not just environmental initiatives driving the project to save Rome’s pine forests.

Their curved silhouette holds sentimental value to many Romans and have featured in many movies filmed in the city, including classics by Federico Fellini and Paolo Sorrentino, as well as being referenced by composer Ottorino Respighi.

The symbolic weight of these trees is such that over two millennia ago ancient Romans worshiped in a temple in a nearby grove next to a sculpture of the god Attis, who transformed into a pine tree, according to Ovid’s Metamorphosis. EFE


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