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Admiring the Trees of Paris


As a Paris resident, I scarcely paid attention to town’s tree-scape until a couple of years ago, once I stumbled upon an arresting scene of a young man stretched out within the elbow of a low-lying branch of a Japanese pagoda tree, its leaves skimming the pond at Buttes-Chaumont Park within the Nineteenth arrondissement.

From that moment, I got here to grasp that town’s trees — from the dramatic weeping willows and their trailing fronds along the Seine to the military rows of London plane trees that line the Champs-Élysées — play an underappreciated supporting role in Paris’s inimitable elegance and grandeur.

It was a belated epiphany, and one which is somewhat comprehensible: Urban trees might be ignored, particularly in Paris, where dozens of stately landmarks command the eye of locals and visitors alike.

But public and political awareness of town’s trees has renewed recently, not only as natural, free-standing monuments equal in importance to the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, but additionally as key assets within the fight against climate change. City lawmakers, arborists and others in Paris are investing within the tree-scape by planning recent urban forests, increasing the variety of protected historical trees and designing walking tours — because trees may also offer a fresh, green-minded perspective of the City of Light.

“Trees are a crucial a part of Paris’s identity,” said Christophe Nadjovski, the deputy mayor in control of green spaces. “The alignment of trees and Parisian promenades structure town enormously and is a 150-year-old heritage. We’re following within the footsteps of this heritage.”

Because it seems, the Japanese pagoda tree (which has since been fenced off) is certainly one of 15 in Paris that carries the official designation “Remarkable Tree of France,” from Arbres, a volunteer association made up of a few of the country’s most outstanding scientists, botanists, gardeners, writers and horticulturalists. The association goals to advertise and protect probably the most beautiful, essential and rare trees in France with a proper label.

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

Brought over from North America and planted in 1601 within the small Square Réné Viviani, across the road from the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the black locust, or Robinier faux acacia, is the oldest tree in Paris. Its foliage still blooms green and full, however the tree bears scars from bombing and shelling during World War II and its splintering trunk is supported by steel beams.

“She is the mother plant,” Béatrice Rizzo, a city forest engineer, explained to me during a guided visit. “You would say that every one the black locust trees in France got here from this one tree.”

Along with the Arbres list, which might be found online, town of Paris keeps a separate, more expansive catalog of remarkable trees — all 176 trees are plotted on a public interactive map. Each lists share similar criteria that include age, size, botanical and cultural importance.

The black locust at Square Réné Viviani carries the Remarkable designation from each town of Paris and Arbres, and is the last of six stops on a self-guided, walking tour of trees created by town.

“A damaged tree like this might never have survived in nature,” said Georges Feterman, the Arbres president. “It’s like protecting monuments. Why will we preserve old churches? Because they testify to the history of men.”

Other tree landmarks on town’s walking tour include the orderly formation of linden trees that border the Place des Vosges square and flood-resistant poplars at Place Louis Aragon on Île-Saint-Louis.

Last yr, Paris lawmakers approved a project that goals to plant 170,000 recent trees throughout town by 2026, and create pockets of urban forests in strategic areas to mitigate the results of maximum urban heat and absorb air pollution. Town also released a 10-point “tree charter” that features a pledge to guard Paris’s exceptional specimens.

“The goal is to completely review the urban approach, protect existing trees and plant as much as we are able to in six years,” Mr. Nadjovski said.

Town’s contemporary tree-planting scheme might be seen because the revival of a protracted heritage of urban planners harnessing the beautifying, cooling and calming power of trees. A few of Paris’s first tree-lined promenades might be traced back to the seventeenth century, when Queen Marie de Médicis requested walking paths not removed from her palace within the Jardin des Tuileries where she and her friends could take leisurely strolls away from day by day traffic. The result was the Cours la Reine, 4 long rows of trees that today stretch from Place de la Concorde to Place du Canada.

Under the vision of the general public servant Georges Eugène Haussmann and his lead engineer, Adolphe Alphand, trees also played a central role in town’s colossal Nineteenth-century reinvention. Over 17 years, the overall variety of trees nearly doubled from around 50,500 to 95,600. Today, the uniformity of tree-lined boulevards and the leafy, shaded passageways in parks also endow Paris with an unique landscape.

“The alignment of trees along avenues and foremost boulevards are mostly monospecific trees, often either the London plane or the horse chestnut tree, which creates a repetitive landscape,” said Avila Tourny, town’s lead urban architect. “The effect is a monumental perspective, a bit like Versailles. And in the center of Paris, it creates a really classic landscape.”

Lately, Ms. Rizzo, the forest engineer, says the climate emergency has also made Parisians more attached to their city’s trees. When tapping the trunks with wood mallets to listen for illness, she might be stopped by concerned passers-by and has to reassure them that she’s simply conducting a “medical visit.”

“The tree has never been as front and center because the savior of the planet and our well-being in town because it is today,” she said. “I’ve been doing this job for 30 years and I’ve never spoken a lot about trees.”

Indeed, news that a 200-year-old London plane tree near the Eiffel Tower might be torn down as a part of town’s plans to renovate the world for the Olympic Games in 2024 drew protests and ignited online outrage for weeks this spring. When asked concerning the fate of the tree, Mr. Nadjovski said town is re-examining the plans and that “zero trees” might be felled during construction.

Mr. Feterman said the Arbres association receives requests day by day for brand new trees to be adorned with the Remarkable label. The designation carries no legal weight and serves more as “moral protection,” however the association works closely with town of Paris and recently received public support from the Ministry of Ecological Transition, a federal government agency. Several cities, including Paris and Bordeaux, have also signed the association’s “Tree Bill of Rights,” which asks signatories to guard trees as living monuments.

“We ask cities to attempt to work otherwise, and to contemplate the tree as a living, respiratory entity, and all the results that include it,” Mr. Feterman said.

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