Parisian Life

The Trees of Paris

It’s long been argued that London has more trees than Paris, yet our Capital counts close to half-a-million (including parks and gardens). Paris’ arboretum offers some 24 species and 300 varieties of trees. The prefect Rambuteau said that he’d prefer to pull his own tooth than have to uproot a tree, which explains why he planted a multitude of them. Haussmann himself earthed 82,000. Today, it’s estimated that there are some 85,000 lining our streets. Sure, we’re far from the grand silva of the Gauls, but our 35,000 plane trees and 13,500 horse chestnut trees cut a fine figure. Spare a thought for the 20,000 elm trees that decorated Paris for the longest time until they were struck by disease 30 years ago, leaving us with barely a thousand today. Especially, as the elm is perhaps the most Parisian of trees. Long ago, it was associated with Christianity, because its sap is red like the blood of martyrs. The Elm of Saint Gervais, in front of the church of the same name, was the tree under which justice was delivered in the Middle Ages (whereas the tree of Saint Louis, in the bois de Vincennes, was an oak tree). The Saint Gervais Elm was also the place duels were held. “Rendez-vous sous l’orme” (“I’ll see you under the elm”) would be thrown down, without it being necessary to specify which one.

In Paris, the biggest tree is an oriental plane that has decorated parc Monceau since 1814: it has a circumference of 7m! The tallest is a plane tree in the bois de Boulogne, that stretches to a height of 45m. The oldest is a Latin Quarter institution in its own right. Leaning against the church of Saint Julian Le Pauvre, the black locust tree in Viviani square (a “fake acacia” planted by the botanist Robin) has survived the ages since 1602. To see the other members of Paris’ geriatric tree club, nip over to the Jardin des plantes and give your regards to a maple from 1702 or a pine tree from 1747. The Lebanese cedar that Jussieu brought over from England in 1734 is the subject of several legends. After a voyage that went without a hitch, the plant pot smashed between Bernard de Jussieu’s house and the Jardin, so the tree spent the end of its odyssey in the hat or the naturalist…