April 1st, 2009
Once widespread at higher elevations throughout Italy, Switzerland, and much of Mediterranean Europe, Viburnum vermicellioides is now an endangered species surviving only in protected areas of its native habitats.
During the early waves of southern Italian immigration, before the importation of plants was as strictly controlled as it is today, many newcomers brought seeds, bulbs and rootstocks of plants from their gardens in the old country. If you, too, grew up in a largely Italian-American community, you’ll remember those special hot peppers that only Zia Giuseppina grew, the particularly sweet table grapes from your grandfather’s arbor, and the rosamarino or basilico more pungent than any you could buy…
So it’s really no surprise that we’ve been getting reports and questions about this small deciduous tree, whose fruit is is ready for picking in early April. (At least this is true for specimens found in the Northeast. The tree may bear earlier in northern California and the Mid-Atlantic; we’d love to hear from readers who may have more info than we do.)
Welcome as much for its distincitve fruit as for its dense summer shade,
V. vermicellioides is found in the backyards of semi-suburban Italian neighborhoods of Boston, Providence, New Haven, Brooklyn, and towns on Long Island. Like Italians themselves, the Old World transplant appears to have thrived in America.
Next time you go back to the old ‘hood—look around. We hope you’ll see the tree in an entirely new, Almost Italian context.
This short ethnographic newsreel from the BBC archives is a revelation to anyone not familiar with the tree in its native habitat.