The Strangler Tree – Palermo’s Century-Old Ficus Macrophylla

This article is intended to introduce you to an impressive spectacle of nature you should not miss during your upcoming trip to Palermo. Here, you will find more than 100-year-old Ficus Macrophylla, a tree that has seen enough to narrate a library of stories.

Palermo’s Century-Old Ficus Macrophylla

Hello friends, it is your purebred Sicilian friend Nico here to share more fun information with you today. This time, I’m talking about an unusual topic for my usual articles, trees. Specifically, I want to talk about The Strangler Tree and the macabre story behind it.

Here in the central Marina square of Palermo there’s a tree believed to be one of the largest in Europe. The scientific name for this giant tree is the Ficus Macrophylla, but locals I have taken to giving this particular landmark the moniker of The Strangler Tree.

Still to this day, it continues to widen and grow by crushing everything obstructing its path as it is spreading its roots farther from the base.

The impressive ability of this tree and the way that it grows is partly due to its nature but also believed to be attributed to the morbid history of the Palace where the tree now stands out from.

The Palace Chiaramonte Steri was built in the 14th century and stood as the seat of the court against prisoners of the Holy Inquisition. Prisoners were regularly executed in the center of the square.

The Palace Chiaramonte Steri

This was a public display of brutality provided by inquisitors to establish the dominance of the Holy Inquisition, discourage dissent and disbelief, and strike fear into those condemned.

For the purposes of the holy inquisition, it was essential for as many to attend these executions as was possible. For this reason, most of these events took place on Sundays or recognize the holidays to ensure the availability of spectators.

Executions were said to have happened precisely where the Strangler Tree now stands.

It is believed that the tree has become so abundant and aggressive on the land where is planted due to enriched soil from the blood of those sentenced to death.

Eerily enough, the roots are said to appear like long human arms because the legend suggests the dead men made its bark and leaves.


Nico’s Take:

Even if you are not overly impressed by trees or know anything about them, this is one of the spectacles of nature that you should not miss when you visited the area. This site is as impressive as the story behind it.

Where can you see the Strangler Tree?

As I mentioned before, the tree is in front of the Steri Palace at Marina Square, right in the heart of Palermo.

You can also look to see plants like this at the botanical gardens not far from Marina Square in Palermo.

These botanical gardens host the largest Ficus plant, which is an abundant 25 meters tall and 21 meters around. This specific plant was moved from the Norfolk islands in 1845 and continues to be an impressive specimen of the species.

The Strangler Tree in Palermo

Even though it might appear like a Magnolia plant, there’s no escaping the Ficus Macrophylla. It has branches that forced themselves under the ground to obtain nutrients and expand the width of the plants beyond its former size.

Worse still, the roots of this tree are known wrap around other nearby plant life. Its aggressive nature is beneficial where it originates in the rain forest, and serves as a stable climbing structure for wildlife of this area.

There are many urban areas and squares of famous Italian cities that feature these plants, many of which are now more than a century old.

If you travel to Syracuse in the southeast corner of Sicily, you can see another impressive Ficus Macrophylla located in an archaeological zone.


There are many areas around Palermo with interesting plants and trees to see, including the botanical gardens or the Villa Giulia. Because I know so little about botany, I am often the last person to have something interesting to say about it.

However, despite my ignorance about plants, the Strangler Tree has always drawn my attention and aroused my curiosity. It is a beautiful and macabre testament to the bloody history of Palermo.

I would suggest that anyone visiting Palermo makes the time to see the Strangler Tree firsthand. Pay a visit to the Palazzo Steri: the seat of this infamous Holy Inquisition that still features the prisons from that time. You can see where noted prisoners and condemned parties spent their final days.

That is what I have for you today. If you’re into seeing unusual things, Palermo is full of them. I recommend looking at our page to list all of the monsters here in Palermo, as well as some of the other itineraries throughout the island.

As always, take a moment to read the Tourist Information Page. There are several helpful tips on this page that can help you learn what to do when you visit. This will be life changing for your trip.



PS – Don’t forget that you have 4 free itineraries I’ve told you about. You also get five full videos with exclusive tips about your trip to Palermo and how to make the most of it. Check them out now for free.

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About Nico

I am a 100%, authentic, full blooded Sicilian loves Palermo like Romeo loves Juliet. I will talk obsessively about this city and I know every part intimately. I know all of Palermo secrets. I want to share with you everything great about this city, but I will not hide its flaws. After all, love is made out of flaws as well.

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