Friday, March 23, 2012

Judas Tree

Wherever I go, I often see notable trees that become landmarks in my life. On 17th between Irving Place and Park Avenue South once stood a venerable Mock orange (Poncirus trifoliata). I delighted in this tree for many years, usually when shopping at the Union Square Green Market. It bloomed profusely every spring, and was covered in small orange fruit each fall. Later, when I started to work in the neighborhood, the tree was cut down, possibly because its long thorns were viewed as an inconvenience. Its needless destruction was like a loss of hope. I still see it in my mind's eye whenever I pass that block.

Here is another special tree. In Rome over a decade ago, I saw this Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) on the backside of the Palatine Hill.

What was unusual was its prostrate form, the large size, and apparent age. It's more an enormous vine than a tree. This may be one for the record books. I hope someone knows something about this Cercis, and has a story to tell about it. I hope it still exists.

It was located along the Via di San Gregorio, between the Arch of Constantine and the Circus Maximus.

I imagine several million Americans visit Rome each year, so it's likely someone else has noticed this tree. Let me know if you've seen it or know anything about it.


  1. What a wonderful tree. If I ever get back to Rome I will look out for it

  2. I think I found the same tree on another blog. It's a Judas tree in Rome, and it certainly looks similar. However, the blog owner gives no information on its specific location.

  3. Hello James,

    That's a remarkable tree. There is another fine specimen (though not so astounding as the one that stopped you in your tracks) in the Jardin des Tuilleries. Evidently they were introduced from Judea into England in the sixteenth century, one supposes to France and Italy before that. John Dixon Hunt would probably know. Have you read his Afterlife of Gardens?

    It is interesting to think that this tree was once planted. Its a kind of erratic that attests to an earlier horticultural vision that a gardener once had. Who thought to plant it there, and why? Perhaps these answers are lost to us, perhaps they are not important enough to know.

    It's "slow time" -- a nice thing to think about against the horrible "Garden App" that was the topic of your previous post. Paul Virilio wrote an interesting book on speed, arguing that with the various technological revolutions life is becoming faster and faster until we "crash" -- It's harder and harder to look at things, we're so assaulted by multitasking. That's what's nice about this tree -- thanks for this object of contemplation. Ross

  4. Thanks for the comment, Ross. I yearn for the experience of "slow time" and the practice of "slow gardening," but I find I've become corrupted and rarely can escape that drive to meet goals and deadlines, to take time for contemplation, or to find a still point where both states can coexist. (I must mention that as I sit here at my keyboard, I am seeing a Great Blue Heron rising from the creek valley and flying over the house.) And in continuing this I've lost something of what that moment could be.

    I haven't read Hunt's The Afterlife of Gardens--a wonderful title--and it's on the list.

  5. Jamie, Have you considered the 'Crepe Myrtle' ? Fantastic trunks without all that root stuff with the bigger species you seem to be besotted by?

    1. Billy, Yes, I did think about Crepe myrtle. I grew up in Mississippi, where Crepe myrtle has been overplanted for two centuries. I absolutely love the colors, textures, and convoluted shape of the trunks. I'd use it in an instant, but I think the most beautiful specimens eventually have multiple trunks. In my tight little garden, I think they will eventually take too much room. The practical result would be to force a walker toward the pool edge, posing a possible danger considering the size and depth of the pool. I had to reject four beautiful Stewartia pseudocamellia I found for the same reason.

  6. It may not be that old, relatively speaking. Cercis canadensis, the North American type, grows quickly. The tree in these pictures was planted in 1974, to give a sense of scale, the trees behind it are about 60 feet tall. It is about twenty feet tall and about forty feet in spread.
    I think that sort of growth habit can be created by training the tree into a multi-stemmed specimen at a young age; it doesn't appear to be genetic, at least the offspring of the one I work with are all growing as tall, single leaders.
    BTW, I like your gardening style!

  7. You may be right. I have no idea how old it might be, but I would certainly think its markedly prostrate habit is genetic. I've seen Cercis growing low to the ground, but this one in on the ground. I'm glad you like my gardening style. Thanks.



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