There are now 400 trees in France bearing label of ‘Arbre Remarquable’.
“These are trees that are either very old, very big, or have a legend or story behind them,” said Professor Georges Feterman, president of the Arbres Remarquables association. “My other criteria is the ‘coup de coeur’.”
Most recently, the association awarded labels to two trees in the Hautes-Pyrénées: one with 80 trunks, and a ‘very beautiful’ cedar imported from Lebanon.
Trees given this special label are nominated by correspondents all over France, and then chosen by a team of five experts.
“We get at least 12 nominations every day, not all of them interesting,” said Prof Feterman, an author and professor of natural sciences at Paris Diderot University. “Many of them are beautiful, but there are millions of beautiful trees in France, so they must have a special character. However, we don’t have absolute rules.”
The remarkable tree label was invented by plant physiologist Robert Bourdu in 2000, who set up the association with Prof Feterman and horticultural engineer Yves-Marie Allain in 1994.
Their goal was to highlight the importance of these special trees to the people living in their surroundings, and also to protect the cultural and natural heritage that the trees represent.
“The label protects the tree in a moral rather than administrative sense, and this works well,” said Prof Feterman.
When the label is awarded to a commune, local authority, public or private establishment, an agreement is signed with Arbres Remarquables to ensure that the tree will be properly protected and maintained.
The association also assists those trying to protect trees from disease or urban development.
Prof Feterman has written several books on remarkable trees in France, including ‘Les 500 plus beaux arbres de France’, published in 2012.
Here, we take a look at four of the most remarkable trees in France.
This amazing oak in Allouville-Bellefosse, Seine-Maritime, is the most famous tree in France.
At least 1,000 years old, 15 metres high, and 16 metres in circumference, it hosts two chapels inside its giant trunk: Notre Dame de la Paix, and the Chambre de L’Ermite.
The chapels are reached by an attractive spiral staircase that has become a favourite spot for taking wedding photos, although Prof Feterman said the chapels are too small to host the actual weddings.
When the tree was around 500 years old, it was struck by lightning, and the resulting fire hollowed out the trunk. The local priest and abbot were convinced this was an act of God, so they built a place of pilgrimage in the hollow. Later on, the upstairs chapel and external staircase were added.
During the French Revolution, the tree came under threat for being a symbol of religion, and a sign was nailed to it declaring it a ‘Temple of Reason’. Such ‘temples’ were dedicated to atheism and humanism, and were supposed to spread the ideals of the Revolution, summarised in the motto of ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité.’
Nowadays, however, a mass is held at the oak twice a year, and it is also the site of an annual pilgrimage on August 15, the date of the Catholic festival of the Assumption.
A giant cedar with 80 trunks is one of the most recent recipients of the ‘remarkable tree’ label.
The impressive giant cedar, which seems more like a forest than a single tree, is located in Siradan in the Hautes-Pyrénées.
Prof Feterman explained that trees develop with multiple trunks due to ‘layering’: a process where huge branches take root and give rise to new trunks. Later, they may separate from the parent tree.
Layering occurs naturally, and is also a technique used to propagate desirable species.
One of the oldest lime trees in France was planted in the 15th century to commemorate an historical marriage.
The huge tree, measuring 15 metres in circumference, was planted in the village of Bracon, Jura to mark the marriage of Marie de Bourgogne to Maximilian I of the House of Habsburg in Austria.
Although the tree symbolised unity between Burgundy – which was not yet part of France – and Austria, in fact the marriage in 1477 launched years of territorial struggles between France and the house of Habsburg.
Born in Brussels, Marie de Bourgogne had inherited Burgundy at the age of 19 when her father ‘Charles the Bold’ was killed in battle at Nancy.
At 2,000 years of age, an olive tree in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, holds the title of the oldest tree in France.
With its multiple trunks, the tree has a circumference of 23.5 metres.
At the start of the 20th century, the owners of the land where the tree stands decided to cut it down. However, historian and minister Gabriel Hanotaux bought the parcel of land to save the tree.
“What makes one tree live longer than another is a combination of the species, and people’s decisions – and these are cultural,” said Prof Feterman.
Despite its grand old age, the olivier is still producing small black olives of the ‘pichoulina’ (in Provençal) variety.
Free trees for Paris gardens
Parisians who want to try growing their own ‘remarkable’ trees can apply for up to five free specimens from the Mairie de Paris, thanks to a new scheme called Un arbre dans mon jardin (A tree in my garden).
To obtain them, a homeowner or a syndic (committee representative) from a copropriété building where communal areas are under shared ownership, must sign a charter committing to not use pesticides, and to watch out for diseases. The number of trees granted depends on the garden space available.
Species available include maples, elms, apple and flowering pear trees. The Mairie’s urban services will come and plant them. See paris.fr.arbres for details.