Gaetano Palisano’s nursery of cacti and rare plants in Rome

Gaetano Palisano’s nursery of cacti and rare plants in Rome
Gaetano Palisano’s nursery of cacti and rare plants in Rome

Gaetano Palisano

There is a far west type metal sign swinging on a pole: “Cactus. Rare collectible plants“. At a point at the beginning of the Appian Way where cars whiz by at indecent speeds. Follow the directions, you are convinced that you have taken the wrong road, you insist and in the end between greenhouses built in the good and spontaneous vegetation wherever he appears: Dr. Gaetano Palisano. For forty years he has been the lord of this hectare and a little more, in the open countryside, along the course of the mythological Almone, the third river of Rome, but three steps from the historic center of the capital.


Gaetano Palisano is the right person to understand how close the correlations are between the world of plant collecting and that of art collecting. There is the uniqueness of the collectible pieces, there is the hunt for the rarest, there are thefts, there is the need to recognize the precious pieces by distinguishing them from those of lesser value and there is a hint of clandestinity and opacity in some operators that aim to violate the rules.

The most important? The habitat plants, or those that were to be taken directly from nature, cannot be marketed and whoever holds them commits a crime comparable to whoever is found with the painting stolen from a museum hanging in the house. There are also various types of precious plants as well as various types of precious works of art. Bonsai are perhaps the first that comes to mind, but the succulent plants that Gaetano deals with are certainly no less.


For those accustomed to commercial cacti bought at the supermarket or in a normal nursery, a world will open up. Centennial plants, unique, from remote corners of the Horn of Africa or South America. Forms never seen before, fruits, flowers. Everything revolves around what we improperly call “succulents”, including many endangered species or even considered extinct. And it does not end here because in another portion of the plot for twenty years now Gaetano has planted a farm that today has 700 turtles of breeds at risk of extinction, some are up to sixty years old and are bred without any purpose of profit: they are not for sale.


Here everything has been ready, for decades now, for the creation of a unique botanical garden, with great educational and naturalistic potential. However, the embarrassing bureaucracy of the Municipality of Rome got in the way: in the 1990s the administration, wanting to enlarge the Caffarella Park, adjacent to the Palisano plot, proposed the expropriation of the land. Palisano then proposes an agreement to the Municipality: I give you the land without opposing it, but then you give it back to me in concession and I build the botanical garden open to the public. The Municipality – at the time there was the Giunta di Francesco Rutelli – rightly accepted and was approved by a resolution dated 1997. Then years of disinterest up to the very recent news: the administration that comes forward again to obtain the land that in the in the meantime, the expropriation having been successful, they have become municipal property. Only the presence of rare plants – some planted in the ground, precisely because they were conceived to make a permanent exhibition – and hundreds of turtles (including those just born, those that are laying their eggs, those that are hibernating) have saved Gaetano Palisano from execution of the eviction a few months ago. In March 2021, a city councilor addressed a question to the environmental councilor of Roma Capitale Laura Fiorini which, although obliged, has never replied by explaining what the administration’s intentions are on this matter. And so this whole project goes on with a damocles sword on the head without any security for the future and prospects.


Many years have passed and age advances, but Gaetano Palisano is still willing to relaunch his space for cultural and scientific study on rare plants. Instead of having an allied administration, however, it is faced with a short-sighted bureaucracy. And to think that the Municipality of Rome is unique in the world for the quantity of buildings, palaces, owned apartments that could be a source of great resources and which instead are left in total abandonment, not to mention the occupied buildings. Instead, for two years now it has continued to rage with a small nursery full of precious and unique plants that cannot be moved and which offers to become a botanical library capable of enriching the green area in which it is located with unrepeatable contents. “I have no children and I am over seventy years old. I just want to give the city forty years of scientific and botanical research. Why doesn’t the city want to take advantage of it?“. Yeah, why?

– Massimiliano Tonelli

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