Rome’s pine trees are dying as time runs out to save city’s skyline

Calls grow for urgent action to save Rome’s pines from killer parasite.

Rome’s umbrella pine trees are at risk of dying – or being cut down before they die – due to a sap-eating parasite called the pine tortoise scale or toumeyella parvicornis.

The deadly effects of the insect are already plain to see on whole swathes of the city’s estimated 50,000 pines, whose foliage a burnt appearance.

This is due to the highly-invasive bug which feeds off the sap of trees and causes the spread of a sooty black mould, leading to extreme needle loss.

  • The race to save Rome’s pine trees before it is too late

The pine fights back by generating new needles which weakens the tree and exposes it to new attacks by the parasite. It is a vicious cycle that – if untreated – can kill the exhausted tree within two years.

News of the serious threat to Rome’s stone pines is starting to make international headlines as calls grow for urgent action to save the trees before it is too late.

The city administration has allocated €1.2 million in funds, on top of an additional half a million euro pledged from the Lazio region, to tackle the parasite which arrived in Italy from North America in 2015.

To date the city has treated around 5,000 trees, according to Rome’s councillor for green policies Laura Fiorini, with a recent focus on pines around the Baths of Caracalla, Castel S. Angelo and the Janiculum.

  • The trees of Rome

In the meantime Romans continue to take matters into their own hands, organising fundraisers to tackle the non-indigenous parasite, using both organic and chemical treatments.

There are also numerous private and public operations underway to tackle the insect which first arrived in Rome in 2018.

Alongside the endotherapy technique – which involves the tree being injected with a phyto-drug (a pharmaceutical product of plant origin) to eliminate disease – local residents groups are organising biological projects to release thousands of ladybirds into parks in north Rome.

Environmentalists say it is now a race against time to save Rome’s iconic skyline.