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Have you ever been awestruck by a particularly majestic tree? One that is so tall, so large, so old, so original, or just so beautiful that it stops you right in your tracks? There are over 200 such trees in Paris, and they are just waiting to get noticed.
While most of these remarkable trees can be found in the botanical gardens and larger parks of the city, they are also present in every arrondissement — in the squares, and on the streets you pass by every day. They represent a diverse palette, with over 50 species of deciduous and evergreen trees. The planes, beeches, and horsechestnuts offer some of the most impressive silhouettes today, as they were among the most popular trees planted in the 19th century.
To highlight these living monuments, the Parks Department has selected 191 trees throughout the city’s 20 districts. Within this selection, some trees were also awarded the prestigious national title of “Arbre Remarquable” (Remarkable Tree) by the A.R.B.R.E.S. association and bear this pictogram / logo.
In addition to its age, physical, and aesthetic characteristics, a tree may also be classified as “Remarkable” for its historical interest, whether it was planted for a special event or is associated with a local custom or legend. Such is the case of the field elm on the Place Saint Gervais, where debts were commonly repaid beginning in the Middle Ages. While the present specimen dates only from 1935, the elm tree’s presence is referenced in period artwork and the 17th-century iron balcony railings on neighboring buildings.
So, where should you begin looking for these Remarkable Trees? That depends on how much time you have. If you would like to proceed methodically, I would suggest the interactive map on the paris.fr website. You will find the tree locations, common name in French, Latin name, height, circumference, and plantation date when available.
However, this link does not include the gardens belonging to the French state, which also have much to offer and include the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Tuileries, Palais Royal, La Villette, and the Jardin des Plantes. As the oldest botanical garden in Paris, the Jardin des Plantes‘ rich and well organized collections have many stories to tell. There is the pistachio tree that allowed scientists in 1718 to prove the sexual reproduction of plants through pollination and fertilization, a Lebanese cedar seedling that arrived in a hat from England in 1734 and now stands at over 65ft/20m tall, along with many other rare and beautiful specimens.
There are three arboretums at your disposal if you would like to learn more about tree families and observe their key characteristics to help you identify them in the future. Tucked into the back corner of the Bois de Vincennes is the Arboretum de Paris, an excellent spot for a picnic beside the 1200 trees growing there. In addition to enchanting cherry and apple tree blossoms in the spring, the collections of oaks, maples and hornbeams offer vibrant fall color while the surprising shapes and colors of the conifers provide year-round interest.
The avenue Foch serves not only as the chicest thoroughfare for reaching the Bois de Boulogne, but its lower section was also once used as a nursery for the city’s budding Parks Department. Some of the original trees planted along this avenue in 1852 still grace its lawns, such as the Caucasian elm and the largest mulberry and evergreen oak in Paris.
The very narrow Allée aux Cygnes promenade between the Grenelle and Bir Hakeim bridges is embellished with over 200 trees of 60 different species, as well as offering fantastic views of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.
The first public gardens created in the mid-19th century are a haven for many remarkable trees. Parc Montsouris has several magnificent gingko trees, a double horsechestnut, and a monumental purple beech.
The Square des Batignolles in the 17th district boasts four plane trees of competing stature and circumference, while the Parc Monceau can claim the largest Oriental plane tree, dating back to 1814. A truly remarkable and graceful Japanese pagoda tree sits on the lake’s edge at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.
If you’re looking for the oldest tree in Paris, head to the tiny René Viviani square in the 5th district, facing Notre Dame. This black locust tree, pictured at the top of this article, was brought to France from America in 1601, and while its trunk reflects its advancing age, there is new growth from stock rejections.
The rolling lawns at the Bagatelle garden are home to many exceptional trees including the oldest monkey puzzle tree in Paris and a yew that predates the French Revolution.
Three green spaces surround the Sacré Coeur Basilica, offering respite from the crowds as well as an exciting array of species to seek out. The Square Nadar is planted exclusively with elegant Japanese pagoda trees. On the northern side, the Marcel Bleustein Blanchet Park has an 82ft/25m London plane tree. The Square Louise Michel holds the most surprises with two Caucasian wing nuts from the 19th century, a colorful and prolific pomegranate, as well as a rare Osage orange tree.
Another hidden treasure awaits in the Square de la Villa Sainte Croix, at the back end of an unenticing cul de sac of the same name. Soldier on to the entrance of the garden; it is almost entirely planted with a relict species, the Metasequoia glyptostrobides, or dawn redwood. This beautiful conifer was known only through fossils dating from 100 million years ago, until it was discovered in China in 1941.
You can also see the first dawn redwood ever grown in Paris at the sunken alpine garden in the Jardin des Plantes; it was planted in 1948, thanks to an expedition funded by Harvard University.
The number of botanical gems at the Serres d’Auteuil is far too many to enumerate; however the ginkgo at the main entrance steals the show in the fall when its vast canopy of fan-shaped leaves reveal their golden splendor.
Nearby is the lesser-known Square Claude Debussy, created in the 1930s. A weeping blue Atlas cedar is tucked behind the monumental sculpture and reflecting pool which honors the musician. I strongly recommend stepping underneath its outstretched branches, into this cathedral of chlorophyll.
One of the best places to admire remarkable trees now that the warmer days are ahead of us is from the water. No, not the Seine, but on the manmade lakes in the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes, where you can rent a rowboat for less than $17/15€ an hour. Created during the mid 19th century, the islands on these lakes are ringed with mature subjects who have flourished in their preserved ecosystems. They are both accessible on public transportation and offer a truly exception vantage point for admiring a tree’s stature, grace, and foliage, not to mention its reflection on the water’s surface.
Amy Kupec Larue has been living, working and traveling in Europe for 30 years. Her passion for flowers, plants and the French art de vivre led her to a career that combines her knowledge, interests and vast experience with gardens. Since 2005 she has been guiding individuals and groups including the Pacific Horticulture Society, the New York Botanical Garden and the Garden Club of America on tours through public and private gardens in France and Italy. A rose lover, she has been a permanent jury member of the Bagatelle Rose Commission since 2009. Currently Amy is offering armchair travel opportunities through her virtual garden talks: The Plants that Changed the World (April 15) and Monet’s Final Muse: 43 years at Giverny (April 22). Please sign up here.
Lead photo credit : The black locust tree in the René Viviani square in the 5th is the oldest tree in Paris, brought to France from America in 1601. Photo: Tangopaso/ Wikimedia commons. Public domain