Buried Alive

Photo by Matthias Heil

We bury our dead and only ever on accident bury the living. But for some plants, burying them alive may be the very thing that saves their lives.

When Italians and other Mediterranean folk began to immigrate to North America in the early 1800s, they wanted to bring a taste of home along with them. What better way to do that than by bringing native plants to the New World? Fig trees were a travel companion of choice as they ameliorated both aesthetic and olfactory homesicknesses.

Unfortunately, fig trees are not well suited to the blustery winds or freezing temperatures of the American Northeast, so to keep these plants around, those who cared about them had to get creative. They had to bury them alive. Trees were tipped over, placed in two foot deep trenches, covered with dirt, then plywood, then a layer of insulating compost, and were left for the winter. Seems like a lot of work for just a few fruits come springtime, but this practice has been passed on through generations and is still carried on today by American fig growers.


“Why Bury Fig Trees? A Curious Tradition Preserves A Taste Of Italy.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2017. <http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/12/25/371184053/why-bury-fig-trees-a-curious-tradition-preserves-a-taste-of-italy>.