A Palm Trip along the Via Aurelia

The coast road of northwest Italy is a paradise for palm lovers.
by Tobias Spanner, Tizianstr. 44, W-8000 München 19, Germany
Chamaerops No. 03, published online 23-11-2002

Left: Heaven must be like this: One of the many gardens along the Via Aurelia. Note Butia, Jubaea, Chamaerops and Livistona australis.
Right: Look but don't touch: Heavily armed Trithrinax campestris.

The Italian Riviera is widely known and greatly appreciated by Northern Europeans for its very agreeable climate. A great variety of palms and other exotic plants is grown here.

Along most parts of the Riviera, the slopes of the Ligurian Alps descend quite sharply into the sea, and here the coastline is very narrow. The range of mountains provides good protection to the coast, and the moderating influence of the sea further adds to the mildness of the climate.

Although many palms would be able to grow further inland, it is along the coastline in the cities that we are able to see the rarest and the choicest. Only an occasional Phoenix canariensis, Trachycarpus or Chamaerops can be found in some little villages uphill.

Even so, a trip to the Ligurian Alps can still be very interesting. I was most fascinated by the dry oak forest and scrublands, which are mainly found over 400m, above the vast olive tree groves. Many interesting shrubs like Cistus, Myrtus, Pistachia etc. and many, many rare flowers, birds and butterflies are everywhere. The best time to go there is April or May when the wild flowers are a riot of colour.

To see the many beautiful palms of the Riviera, a trip along the Via Aurelia, the main Street winding along the coast, is most rewarding. All of the gardens described here can be found directly along the Via Aurelia, or at least very close to it.

I begin most of my trips in the old and famous city of Genova, where the highway from the north meets the coast. Since Genova lacks some of the protection that cities further west have from the Ligurian Alps, it is more susceptible to frosts, however, the fact that not many palms are to be found here is more likely to be due to a lack of enthusiasm among Genovan gardeners. A few kilometres east and west of the city many palms of the common species can be observed, but I think it doesn't really get interesting before one gets west of Albenga.

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