There is nothing as moving as a heartfelt song sung for a plant. That is why, Ombra mai fu, the opening aria from the 1738 opera Serse by George Frideric Handel, is probably the most popular number from any of his operas. Sung by the main character Xerxes I of Persia, the title translates from the Italian as “Never was a shade”, referencing the object of his affection – a plane tree – the words themselves go on to describe his admiration in greater detail.
Plane tree or Platanus orientalis is a species of deciduous tree in the plant family Platanaceae. It is thought to originate in Eurasia from the Balkans to Iran, although its cultivation across a much wider area makes any account of its native distribution uncertain. London planes (Platanus x acerifolia), the commonly planted street tree, is thought to be the hybrid of Platanus orientalis and the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis).
del mio platano amato
per voi risplenda il fato.
Tuoni, lampi, e procelle
non v’oltraggino mai la cara pace,
né giunga a profanarvi austro rapace.
Ombra mai fu
cara ed amabile,
of my beloved plane tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never disturb your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.
Never was a shade
of any plant
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.
Large Plane Trees, Vincent van Gogh, 1889