18 Feb 2015

Seeing the Wood for the (Majestic) Trees

Despite the Raw Deal faced unrelentlessly by the indigenous Corsican vegetation, as human encroachment is getting bolder about its treatment of the land, there remains somehow one reason to be celebratory. Over the last four years, two of Corsica's most venerable trees have won a nationwide competition as L'Arbre de l'Année (Tree of the Year), organised by French nature magazine Terre Sauvage and French forestry body ONF.

The competition has been going strong since 2011. In 2014, a total of 25,000 tree lovers cast their votes, demonstrating in doing so their attachment and respect towards venerable secular trees (180 tree candidates, of which 24 tree nominees) across the length and breadth of France. Those trees they elected are considered the pride and joy to the land and region they sublimate and the abundant ecosystem they sustain. They have survived wars, invasions, lootings, diseases, decapitation and Acts of God. They still stand today to show us their story, stretching out branches, expanding canopies, casting dappled light and standing the test of time, with fortitude and elegance.

Click the picture to zoom in (pict source)

Back in 2011, a majestic Pistacia lentiscus, a.k.a. mastic shrub, from the Ghisonaccia region, Corsica, won the top prize (Prix de l'Arbre de l'Année 2011). Believed to be between 800 and 1000 years of age, it stands as the oldest pistacia lentiscus in the whole Mediterranean! Height 7m (approx. 23ft.) and trunk circumference 190cm (6ft.2). What is most touching about the tree though is that it once stood in utter neglect, swollen up by vegetation. In 1991, a young shepherdess by the name of Elise Inversin cleared the scrub for her grazing sheep and she unveiled the tree. She was impressed by her discovery but it seems that her awe wasn't shared in equal measure by the other locals. However when a grass fire broke out in the year 2000, Elise urged the firefighters not to attend to her villa ('because you can build it back!') but to save the tree instead. Since then, in a twist of irony, the tree has become a hero.

Then last year, a Castanea sativa (chestnut tree) from Pianello, Corsica, and nicknamed 'L'Arbre à Pain' (the bread tree, in reference to its chestnuts that catered for both humans and farm animals for centuries), put Corsica back on the biodiversity map. It won 'Prix du Jury'. Its credentials as a European heavyweight contender are pretty impressive: 15m (approx. 49ft.) trunk circumference, 12m+ (approx. 39ft.) tall, 800 to 1000 years' old! It comes with bumps, lumps, scars, kinks, warts et al, yet those imperfections make it so perfect. I would be tempted to designate the tree as 'him', as when they come to that age and shape, trees become somewhat anthropomorphic, and if we take the time to linger, we may even feel a spiritual force hanging about them, wrapping them in an aura of mystique. By the way, our tree is a contender for European Tree of the Year 2015. If you love him and wish to show your support, then you have until 28th February to vote for him. The voting process takes less than 10 seconds!

The Castanea sativa in Pianello won Prix du Jury Arbre de l'Année 2014 (picture via Rustica)
Now of course no tree in the world is safe from some chainsaw-wielding nutter on the rampage, be they corporate, governmental or private. But as with everything from the natural world which modern civilisation tampers with, they will be sawing off yet another branch they're sitting on. However from the top of those giant trees, the fall should be deadly! Ooops, did I say that Karma hurts?

Anyhoo, there is no rest for the wicked as Terre Sauvage and ONF have kicked off L'Arbre de l'Année 2015 campaign. Nominate your favourite venerable tree in France (and French territories), until 15th March 2015, and/ or vote for your favourite nominee from 1st April to 1st September 2015. Start off here.

Pict source: ONF
Update (05/03/2015): An amazing total of approx. 185,000 voters cast their votes for The 2015 European Tree of the Year. The winner is... Estonia's Oak Tree on a Football Field (Orissaare, Saaremaa), with nearly 60,000 votes! Our Chestnut Tree in Pianello, Corsica may have only garnered 654 votes, but what truly counts is for awareness to have been raised and for those remarkable trees to be allowed to grace our lands for centuries to come!

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