Centuries, millennia, legendary… struck by a scorching summer, our trees, these heroes

Harassed by the heat wave, ravaged by fires, their summer turns into tragedy. Pine trees, plane trees, beeches, olive trees or even fig trees in our region have nevertheless withstood many abuses to cross centuries or even millennia and enter the legend and elite of remarkable trees.

In Sorèze, in Tarn, a 450-year-old beech was chosen as the “tree of the year” in 2019. Closer to us, the plane tree Saint-Guilhem-le-désert, probably planted in 1848 and located two not from the Benedictine monastery, also appears in the elite of ​​so-called “remarkable” trees, listed by ARBRE’s association (1). It was created in 1994 and is the origin of the label “Notable trees of France”, which appeared in 2000. With 750 names, the census is always enriched with new specimens, which pass through a selection committee on the basis of three essential conditions , “their lifespan, their dimension, their history”, states Georges Feterman, chairman of the association. In a few months, the plane trees of Ceret, immortalized 100 years ago by the painter Soutine, will perhaps join the list of the beech of Veyrines d’Allenc and the large-leaved linden tree of Prévenchères, of Lozère, the fig tree of Sérignan, the pine of Miravel in Vieussan (Hérault) or even the juniper cade of Castelnau-Valence (Gard), known as “cade de Rolland”.

In the heart of a scorching and deadly summer for nature ravaged by fires, these trees tell the beautiful story of species that have withstood time and aggression. “They are like all the others, they suffer from lack of water and drought. But for the elders, they have seen others”emphasizes Georges Feterman, who nevertheless assumes that by going through the centuries, “They probably got more resistance”. Nevertheless, a month ago he trembled for the thousand-year-old juniper in Opoul Périllos, while this area in the Pyrénées-Orientales was ravaged by fire.

“The hardest thing is to continue to escape the lust”

Documentaries, exhibitions, books… In Plaissan, in the Hérault, the Museo bureau, created in 2015, devotes a large part of its production to remarkable trees and forests, from here and elsewhere. They publish Georges Feterman, but also the botanist and biologist from Montpellier Francis Hallé, a tireless explorer of the tropical forest, and the photographer Beth Moon, who testifies in “Baobab”, published at the beginning of the year, about the environmental disaster that threatens the baobab -the giants in Madagascar, Botswana, South Africa, Senegal.

“Our goal, reports the Jean-Pierre Duval-Caroline Breton duo, is to get people interested in nature, and not just in the form of human casualties and damage to homes when there is a fire. For this, remarkable trees and forests are an ideal entrance. They are beautiful, they often have a story. But we are also republishing the German Alexandre de Humboldt, who already warned in 1805 about the risk of loss of biodiversity”.

Their film “Remarkable trees”, an adaptation of the book “The oldest trees in France”, by Georges Feterman, was previewed at the National Assembly on April 3, 2019. They hope that before the end of the year, a law will protect these living historical monuments to the stupidity of an individual, the appetite of a promoter, the passivity of an elected official… Standing on the road to a nearby construction site, a centenary of Castelnau-le-Lez, at the gates of Montpellier, thus hit the headlines this spring.

“The hardest thing for an old tree is to continue to escape the desires or nuisances of human activities”, says researcher Jacques Tassin (CIRAD Montpellier). Georges Feterman confirms: “We get asked a lot about the brand, we get calls every day… but above all because we risk cutting down a tree”.

(1) TREES: Notable trees: assessment, research, study and conservation

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