From the heavily settled and cultivated Po Valley, lying in the shadow of its northern Alps, to its sunny wine country and coast, Italy is a land of climatic diversity. Italy’s different trees and plants reflect varied growing conditions throughout the country. Alpine forests have evergreen trees and ground-hugging plants that avoid the wind. Far to the south, the warm, dry Mediterranean scrub land is fragrant with thyme, rosemary, flowering almond trees and wild orchids.
One of the most impressive Italian trees, Norwegian spruce grows across northern Italy, sometimes reaching 200 feet tall. It has a pyramidal form with rigid, short deep green needles and reddish-brown, hanging seed cones. It needs a cold climate, with winter temperatures regularly dropping below 0°F. This puts it off-limits for gardeners in USDA hardiness zones 7 or above, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Norwegian spruce likes a well-drained location and full sun.
Growing throughout Italy, Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) may have been the original Christmas tree. The ancient Greeks used the tree in ceremonies honoring their god Attis, and early Christians may have adopted that tradition as part of their Christmas ritual. Aleppo pine grows throughout Italy. Mature trees can be 60 feet high by 40 wide with round crowns and fine 2- to 3- inch needles. Their stout trunks have open, irregular branches with 3-inch oval cones. They tolerate winter temperatures into the teens, according to the University of Arizona Extension. The trees require large, sunny spaces and two or three monthly waterings in addition to rainfall. Their needles may drop more heavily than usual during drought.
Trumpet gentian (Gentiana acaulis) is a spring-blooming perennial native to the mountain pastures and forests of northern and west central Italy. Standing less than 3 inches high, its evergreen mats of shiny, deep-green foliage are invisible during the blooming season beneath green-throated, dazzling blue trumpet-like flowers. Their petals have a metallic sheen, according to the Ottawa Valley Rock Garden and Horticultural Society. Divide the slowly spreading plants on a 3- to 4-year basis.
Turks Cap Lily
Found nearly everywhere in Italy, except for the country's boot heel and toe, turks cap lily (Lilum martagon) is a tall, graceful shade lover. Usually standing 4 to 7 feet high, it has attractive, downward facing blooms. The waxy flowers--smaller than those of other lily species--are available in a range of colors including white, yellow and burgundy. Many varieties have contrasting speckles. Their backward-and-upward-curving petals meet in the center for a turban-like appearance, according to the Iowa State University Extension. This lily brings a different look to the back of shady perennial borders.