From the alpine north to the warm Mediterranean south, Italy is blessed with natural scents and colors. Due to its geographic diversity, the country has thousands of vascular plant species. There are certain native and imported plants and herbs we associate with Italy, such as the colorful bougainvillea and oleander; herb plants such as basil, rosemary, and thyme as well as the corn poppy flowers in Tuscany and the white lily which is the symbolic flower of the Italian Renaissance.
Lily - the Renaissance's favorite flower
Lily is native and one of the most popular flowers in Italy. It has large and prominent flowers with a strong fragrance. It comes in a wide range of colors including whites, pinks, yellows, oranges, and reds. They are tall perennials and flowers can grow to a six-inch diameter. One of the Renaissance's favorite flowers was the lily – a national symbol of Italy. The white lily was usually associated with the Virgin Mary in religious contexts. It was also associated with the Holy Family, particularly the three buds on a single stem.
Bougainvillea - the iconic plant in Italy
Everyone who has travelled to Italy will remember the bright purple and red vivid bougainvillea blossoms over the windows in Italy. Their magenta bracts are so colorful that they become very popular ornamental plants across the entire Mediterranean Basin. The actual flower of this plant is small and usually white, the bracts surrounding them can be seen in all shades of pink, purple, red, white and yellow.
Corn poppy flowers - symbol of the Tuscan landscape
The Tuscan landscape is known for its stylish cypress trees and bright red poppies. Starting in May, the Tuscan poppies flower and these eye-popping scarlet flowers are widely grown in the region, in fields, beside roads, and on grasslands. The stems hold single flowers which are large and red.
Basil - flower and the most typical Italian herb
Rosemary - exemplary Italian Herb
Sweet basil, or Ocimum basilicum, actually was named from the Greek word “basileus”, which means king. One cannot imagine Italian cooking without basil, it might be surprising for many to find out that basil originated in India, and was brought to Italy via the spice route during ancient times. Basil became an integral seasoning in Italian cuisine, and in fact Italians had such appreciation for this herb, that it became a symbol of love. It is said that if an Italian woman placed a sprig of basil on her balcony, it was a message to her beau that he could call that evening.
Rosemary, the important Italian culinary herb, grows wild over Italy. The herb has long been known for its aromatic flavor. Native to the Mediterranean region, the woody herb has needle-like leaves and purple, white, pink or blue flowers. It is pest-resistant, easy to grow and drought-tolerant, so it's also used as a decorative plant. Throughout history and literature, rosemary (rosmarino, in Italian) has been associated with a variety of qualities and virtues, and inspired a host of poetic associations. In ancient mythology, the nine muses and Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, are often depicted with rosemary in their hands.
Thyme - since Roman times beloved Italian herb
Thyme once was associated with courage, bravery and strength. Roman soldiers exchanged sprigs of thyme as a sign of respect. Greeks and Romans burned bundles of thyme to purify their temples and homes and to evoke a spirit of courage in those who inhaled it. Thyme was associated with health and vigor and believed to strengthen and purify the body. Today, its essential oil, thymol, still has many therapeutic applications – it is widely used as an antiseptic and disinfectant and infusions of thyme are believed to be an excellent remedy for respiratory and throat ailments – and even hangovers! Thyme is also said to help in the digestion of fatty foods.
Thyme is widely used in Italian cooking – where it is know as “timo, pronounced “tee-mo”. Though there are more than 300 varieties of this herb, the most common types used in cooking are Thymus vulgaris (common thyme),
Italian houses with geraniums - so typical for Italy
Italy is brilliant with geraniums in summer. They spill from every window box, stone wall, and doorway planter. Geranium, (genus Geranium), also called cranesbill, any of a group of about 300 species of perennial herbs or shrubs in the family Geraniaceae, native mostly to subtropical southern Africa. Geraniums are among the most popular of bedding and greenhouse plants. One of the most popular flowers for the balconies and terraces of Italian homes, the geranium is the flower most commonly associated with Italy. A reliable flower, geraniums continue to bloom until frost arrives. In southern Italy, the plant continues to thrive and bloom year-round. Able to grow in most soil types, geraniums have few problems and prosper by trimming spent blooms and keeping the plant fertilized.
Oleander - the most Mediterranean Plant
Many towns have planted oleander (Oleandro in Italian) along the side of the road or around town, and it grows very happily in the Mediterranean sun. Nerium oleander most commonly known as oleander is a shrub or small tree belonging to subfamily Apocynoideae of the dogbane family Apocynaceae and is cultivated worldwide in temperate and subtropical areas as an ornamental and landscaping plant. It is so widely cultivated that no precise region of origin has been identified, though it is usually associated with the Mediterranean Basin. Oleander was a very popular ornamental shrub in Roman peristyle gardens; it is one of the flora most frequently depicted on murals in Pompeii and elsewhere in Italy. These murals include the famous garden scene from the House of Livia at Prima Porta outside Rome, and those from the House of the Wedding of Alexander and the Marine Venus in Pompeii.