The Botanical Garden of Palermo

The history

The Botanical garden of Palermo is the richest in Italy and one among the most important in Europe: visiting it means spending a whole day out of the chaotic city, hidden in a tropical corner in the center of Palermo, in touch with a nature extraordinarily rich in plants, colours, scents, centennial trees and rare species. The garden’s history is two centuries long, during which it has grown larger, charming many visitors, among who scientists, naturalists or simple curious people looking for rare and exotic plants. It was established in 1779, but only since 1789 the seat is the current one. To realize it, the most known architects of the time were called: they built three monumental buildings in the neo-classical style, The gymnasium, the Tepidarium and the Calidarium, decorated with sphinxes and columns they can be seen walking down the Via Lincoln, the street where is situated the main entrance to the garden. The Botanical Garden consists of avenues run by rare palm trees, greenhouses, and large areas where plants are collected according to their geographical origin and type: we point out that here more than 12.000 species are guarded and grown.


One of the most impressive among the plants in this garden is no doubt the Ficus Magnolideus, one of the largest trees in Italy; of the same species another huge example is in the garden of Piazza Marina, not far from the botanical garden itself. This kind of tree came from New Zealand and, as many others, found in Sicily the climate and the favorable conditions to grow. Its huge tangled roots spread for meters and meters as its foliage does: from the branches several aerial roots grow, and once they reach the ground they start sustaining the tree. During the years the aerial roots that has turned into trunks start welding to each other creating huge monstrous trunks.

ficus magnolideus
Huge trunk and aerial roots of Ficus Magnolideus in the Botanical Garden of Palermo.

The tallest among the trees is instead the Araucaria Columnaris, originally from the New Caledonia, nowadays is used to decorate parks and gardens of private villas in Sicily. Peculiar are the various species of Chorisia with their large bottle-shaped trunks covered with thorns like roses, The Dracenes including the huge “dragon’s blood” variety, and the so-called soap tree (Sapindus Mukorossi) since its fruits produce a substance used as detergent in far eastern countries where it comes from (it really works!). In 1793, Queen Maria Carolina of Austria, sister of the French Queen Marie Antoinette and wife of Ferdinando IV di Borbone, donated a Cycas Revoluta which today is still present in this garden: it was the first example of this species ever planted in Europe. Palm trees of all kinds, some of which very tall and set in rows and imposing banana trees, make the visitor forget to be in the center of Palermo, not in a tropical garden!

The bottle-shaped trunk of a Chorisia, Botanical Garden, Palermo.

The greenhouses and the Aquarium

Several Greenhouses host exotic plants from all over the world. The oldest among them is the “Maria Carolina greeenhouse” also known as “winter garden”, another tribute of the Queen to the city: originally it was wooden and heated by stoves, but during the second half of 19th century it was entirely rebuilt in cast iron. Inside, several kinds of bouganvillea and the plant of Coffee are still grown. Very interesting are also the “Cactus greenhouse” where every kind of Succulent plant and Cactus are guarded inside, and the “Ferns Greenhouse”. Walking towards the center of the park we find a wonderful “Aquarium”, a large round pool where Lotus flowers and Water Lilies flourish while turtles swim among them: every picture you will take will remind the paintings by Claude Monet! Nearby another aquatic corner with a pond houses the papyrus, surrounded by a dense high bamboo grove.

Water lilies
Water lilies in the “Aquarium”, Botanical Garden, Palermo.

One of the most beloved plants in Palermo

To end your visit to the Botanical Garden, do not forget to visit the Plumerie area: Plumeria, also known as Frangipani or Pomelia, as it is called here, is a tropical plant widespread in Sicily and beloved by Palermitans, whose flowers vary in color according to the various species, with an irresistible scent. Also this plant was imported for the first time right in the Botanical Garden of Palermo by the British!

6 thoughts on “The Botanical Garden of Palermo

  1. Are you saying “Ficus Magnolideus” is native to New Zealand? I don’t think so! I’m from New Zealand! I know nothing about it. It looks more like an Australian tree. Is it the Moreton Bay Fig Tree (Ficus macrophylla)? This does grow in northern NZ and it makes a huge tree but it comes from Eastern Australia – it is not native to NZ!


  2. “Came from” makes it sound like they’re native to NZ which I’m sure they’re not. It would be better if you provided more information about HOW they “came from” NZ.


  3. Thanks for the tip, exploringcolour! It’s certainly a stunning tree and the botanical gardens look beautiful. Hopefully I can visit Sicily some time soon!

    Ficus trees are super common in the Mediterranean, but I don’t know much about those native to Australia. Could you provide any information (in Italian is ok) about the ‘Ficus Magnolideus’? Is it the same as the Moreton Bay Fig tree (ficus macrophylla)?

    Thanks again for sharing the photos!


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