We review the literature dealing with mediterranean climate, vegetation, phenology and ecophysiology relevant to the understanding of tree-ring formation in mediterranean regions. Tree rings have been used extensively in temperate regions to reconstruct responses of forests to past environmental changes. In mediterranean regions, studies of tree rings are scarce, despite their potential for understanding and predicting the effects of global change on important ecological processes such as desertification. In mediterranean regions, due to the great spatio-temporal variability of mediterranean environmental conditions, tree rings are sometimes not formed. Often, clear seasonality is lacking, and vegetation activity is not always associated with regular dormancy periods. We present examples of tree-ring morphology of five species (Arbutus unedo, Fraxinus ornus, Quercus cerris, Q. ilex, Q. pubescens) sampled in Tuscany, Italy, focusing on the difficulties we encountered during the dating. We present an interpretation of anomalies found in the wood structure and, more generally, of cambial activity in such environments. Furthermore, we propose a classification of tree-ring formation in mediterranean environments. Mediterranean tree rings can be dated and used for dendrochronological purposes, but great care should be taken in selecting sampling sites, species and sample trees.