Connectivity of green and blue infrastructures: living veins for biodiverse and healthy cities

Remarkable Trees

Are there remarkable trees in cities?

Remarkable trees are those very old, often very large, trees that have important ecological roles and are also beloved by humans. On the occaission of a new film about remarkable trees in France, “Les arbres remarquables, un patrimoine à proteger” (remarkable trees, a patrimony to be protected) https://vimeo.com/317942131, a colloquium held at the Assemblé National in Paris brought together tree lovers and protectionists, tree specialists and defenders of the rights of nature. The assembly debated and then voted to approve a Declaration of the Rights of Trees, which basically says that trees have the right to be left alone, to have access to space in the air and the soil, and to be protected as biocultural heritage. The Declaration also recognises that some trees are exploited by humans, but that this exploitation ought to take into account their life cycles, natural establishment and succession, and their ecology and the wider biodiversity.

This sounds pretty reasonable to me, since coppicing and related practices collaborate with many species’ regernative growth capacities, and their tolerance for disturbances built up during milenia of coevolution with megafauna and smaller disturbance agents.

I have recently been reading Wilding by Isabella Tree, the account of the rewilding project at Knepp Estate in the UK. This really fascinating book contains a wonderful section on their centuries-old oaks, and how the abandonment of agriculture allowed them to reform root and mycelial networks and revive. She also details the many, many species, both expected and unexpected, that depend on and enjoy the resources provided by old trees. Senescent and dead trees provide hollows for bird and mammal nests, dead wood for many insects to digest and reincorporate into the soil, and a whole ecosystem of insect predators, their predators, and so on.

I was, at one point, very impressed to see a very large fallen dead tree conserved in a garden in the Tuilleries park in Paris: so much ecological sensibility! On closer inspection I realized it was a life-size sculpture of a fallen dead tree.

Are there any “remarkable trees” in cities? The French association A.R.B.R.E.S. () lists 19 remarkable trees or sites with a set of remarkable trees in Paris alone (http://www.click2map.com/v2/sachone/Carte-association-ARBRES), including the trees planted historically in the Jardin de Plantes, which I am familiar with. The others I will have to go look for!

Are there remarkable trees in your city or suburbs? Some websites contain information about hertige trees in Europe: http://www.catpaisatge.net/dossiers/arbres/eng/directori.php.

It must be difficult for remarkable trees to survive in cities. With their roots cut off from mycelial networks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGyECGJqWDU), with nutrient-imbalanced soils lacking biodiversity, and with impermeable surfaces all around them, it is a wonder they live long. Of course, since most of them are a century or more old, they may have established when conditions were much more appropriate to treelife. Will there be remarkable urban trees in the future, or just a series of doomed saplings, bred in nurseries and swapped for new ones as they die? At the colloquium, it was remarked that even a non-legal designation, along with a sign, a ceremony, and a little party, can go a long way towards connecting people to their old trees and galvanizing their protection for the future.

Bibliography:
Isabella Tree. 2018. Wilding. Picador.
Peter Wohlleben. 2016. The hidden life of trees: What they feel, how they communicate.

--Meredith Root-Bernstein, 7/4/2019