Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Rolling Tuscan Landscape of Castiglion Fiorentino

MC: The Rolling Tuscan Landscape of Castiglion Fiorentino

As we departed Santa Chiara on our first horticultural excursion through the Tuscan countryside, I took note of the absolute beauty that surrounded this quiet and seemingly undisturbed fortified town. There were multiple sights that caught my eye, from the wild barley and oats wisping in the wind along the rocky hillside to the blood red roses that were uniformly situated along the cobble stone path that led to the Chiesa Collegiata.  Nevertheless, there were three particular things that captured my full attention: the wine grapes, olive groves, and the plethora of ginormous Italian cypress trees that tower erect above all other foliage. This blog will focus on the latter.
 The Italian cypress tree, Cupressus sempervirens, originated in Persia but has been extensively cultivated in the Tuscan region of Italy, particularly by the Etruscan tribe. Interestingly enough, the reason why the Etruscan people had such an admiration and even a mystical connection to this tree is due to the fact that the Italian cypress will not lose its leaves during the winter and has a life span of approximately 2,000 years. In the eyes of the Etruscans this supernatural tree, when planted around the Necropolis, would help ensure a safe passage of the dead into the afterlife.  With such a rich history that dates back thousands of years, it is no wonder as to why the cypress tree has become a symbol of Tuscany.
Fast forwarding to today, the Italian cypress remains a prominent fixture in the Tuscan landscape.  As such, they are intensively cultivated and are readily available for purchase on the market. As it turns out the Italian cypress has two forms, although it is one specific variety. The form that comes to the mind of many and the form that is most sought after is the one that has a tall and slender columnar shape. While the least preferred form has a scraggly shape that branches out like an unattended Christmas tree. The difference is all in the genetics. The gene that regulates the overall shape and appearance can either be expressed as a dominant or recessive trait. Unfortunately, the dominant trait, which happens to be the most often expressed, leads to the scraggly and non-uniform shape, while the recessive trait leads to the highly prized columnar shape. Due to the fact that the primary factor involved in determining the final shape of the tree is based on genetics, propagators in the past have had little choice but to plant rows and rows of these cypress trees and let them grow large enough to observe what form each one will take. Thus it may take the planting of many acres to acquire a relatively small amount of the symbolic tree. With the knowledge we have today, growers are able to propagate clonally using a variety of techniques, which helps ensure that the Italian cypress will remain a constant sight found throughout the cascading hills of Tuscany.  

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