Admiring the trees of Paris

As a resident of Paris, I hardly paid any attention to the city’s treescape until a few years ago, when I stumbled across a striking scene of a young man sprawled on the elbow of a low tree branch. japanese pagoda treeits leaves brush the pond at Buttes-Chaumont Park in the 19th Ward.

From that moment on, I came to understand that the city’s trees, from the dramatic weeping willows and their fronds that creep along the Seine to the military rows of London plane trees lining the Champs-Elysées, play an unremarkable supporting role. appreciated in the inimitable elegance and elegance of Paris. greatness.

It was a late epiphany, and an understandable one: urban trees can be overlooked, particularly in Paris, where dozens of majestic monuments draw the attention of locals and visitors alike.

But public and political awareness of the city’s trees has recently been renewed, not only as stand-alone natural monuments of equal importance to the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, but also as key assets in the fight against climate change. City legislators, arborists and others in Paris are invest in tree landscape by planning new urban forests, increasing the number of protected historic trees, and designing walking tours, because trees can also offer a fresh, green perspective on the City of Light.

“Trees are an important part of the identity of Paris,” he said. Christopher Nadjovsky, the deputy mayor in charge of green spaces. “The tree lineup and the Parisian promenades greatly structure the city and it is a heritage of 150 years. We are following in the footsteps of this heritage.”

It turns out that the Japanese pagoda tree (which has since been fenced off) is one of 15 in Paris that bears the official designation “Remarkable Tree of France,” from trees, a volunteer association made up of some of the country’s most eminent scientists, botanists, gardeners, writers, and horticulturists. The association aims to promote and protect the most beautiful, important and rare trees in France with a formal label.

Also on the list: a 420-year-old tree that isn’t particularly flashy, but has extraordinary cultural and biological significance.

Brought from North America and planted in 1601 in the small Réné Viviani square, across the street from Notre-Dame Cathedral, the black locust, or Robinier faux acacia, is the oldest tree in Paris. Its foliage still blooms green and full, but the tree is scarred from shelling and shelling during World War II and its splintered trunk is supported by steel beams.

“It’s the mother plant,” Béatrice Rizzo, a city forestry engineer, explained to me during a guided tour. “You could say that all the black acacias in France come from this one tree.”

In addition to the Arbres list, which can be found onlinethe city of Paris maintains a separate and more extensive catalog of notable trees: all 176 trees are charted in an interactive public map. Both lists share similar criteria including age, size, botanical and cultural importance.

The Black Locust at Square Réné Viviani carries the Notable designation from both the City of Paris and Arbres, and is the last of six stops on a self-guided treetop walking tour created by the city.

“A damaged tree like this would never have survived in the wild,” said Georges Feterman, president of Arbres. “It’s like protecting monuments. Why do we preserve ancient churches? Because they bear witness to the history of men”.

Other tree landmarks on the city walking tour include the orderly formation of lime trees lining Place des Vosges square and the flood-resistant poplars at Place Louis Aragon on Île-Saint-Louis.

Last year, lawmakers in Paris approved a bill that aims to plant 170,000 new trees throughout the city by 2026, and create pockets of urban forests in strategic areas to mitigate the effects of extreme urban heat and absorb air pollution. The city also published a 10-point “tree charter” that includes a commitment to protect exceptional specimens in Paris.

“The goal is to completely overhaul the urban approach, protect existing trees and plant as many as we can in six years.” Mr. Nadjovsky said.

The contemporary city tree planting scheme could be seen as the revival of a long heritage of urban planners harnessing the beautifying, refreshing and calming power of trees. Some of the earliest tree-lined avenues in Paris date back to the 17th century, when Queen Marie de’ Medici requested walking paths near her palace in the Tuileries Garden where she and her friends could take leisurely walks away from the daily traffic. The result was the run the queenfour long rows of trees that today extend from the Place de la Concorde to the Place du Canada.

Under the vision of public servant Georges Eugène Haussmann and his chief engineer, Adolphe Alphand, trees also played a central role in the colossal reinvention of the city in the 19th century. For 17 years, the total number of trees almost doubled from about 50,500 to 95,600. Today, the uniformity of the tree-lined boulevards and the leafy and shady passages of the parks also endow Paris with a unique landscape.

“The tree lineup along the main avenues and boulevards are mostly monospecific trees, often London plane or horse chestnut, which creates a repetitive landscape,” said Ávila Tourny, the principal architect. city ​​urban. “The effect is a monumental perspective, a bit like Versailles. And in the heart of Paris, it creates a very classic landscape.”

In recent years, Ms Rizzo, the forestry engineer, says the climate emergency has also made Parisians more attached to the trees in their city. When she bangs on the trunks with wooden mallets to detect diseases, concerned passersby will stop her and she will have to reassure them that she is simply performing a “medical visit”.

“The tree has never been as front and center as the savior of the planet and our well-being in the city as it is today,” he said. “I’ve been doing this job for 30 years and I’ve never talked so much about trees.”

In fact, news that a 200-year-old London plane tree near the Eiffel Tower could be toppled as part of the city’s plans to renovate the area for the 2024 Olympics sparked protests and ignited outrage online for weeks. this spring. When asked about the fate of the tree, Mr. Nadjovski said the city is re-examining the plans and “zero trees” will be cut down during construction.

Mr. Feterman said that the Arbres association receives daily requests for new trees to adorn with the Remarkable label. The designation carries no legal weight and serves more as “moral protection”, but the association works closely with the city of Paris and recently received public support from the Ministry of Ecological Transition, an agency of the federal government. Several cities, including Paris and Bordeaux, have also signed the association’s “Tree Bill of Rights,” which asks signatories to protect trees as living monuments.

“We ask cities to try to work differently and to consider the tree as a living entity that breathes, and all the consequences that come with it,” Mr. Feterman said.

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