Paris’ oldest tree came more than 4 centuries ago from across the Atlantic. The black locust tree was brought from the Appalachian mountains and was planted way back in 1601. A plaque at the foot of the tree identifies it as the Robinia pseudoacacia.
Planted by Jean Robin, the gardener to successive kings, Paris’ oldest tree has endured wars and is still evergreen. But it appears to have turned out to be the forerunner of an invasion force. The black locust trees have spread across the continent and then on to other parts of the world.
Foresters across central Europe loved the successors of Paris’ oldest tree. The American black locust grows quickly on stripped land and thus protects the empty patches from erosion.
In the north-western part of China in the Loess Plateau, the American black locust has been planted across 25M acres to protect it from severe soil erosion. The hard and durable wood of the black locust tree is valuable. Four decades after it crossed the Atlantic and ended up in the garden of Jean Robin, the successors of Paris’s oldest tree is flaunted for being the sole ‘European’ tree that doesn’t require any pesticide treatment before being used for furniture. It has turned out to be a sustainable substitute for the prohibitively expensive tropical teak.
Paris’ Oldest Tree Has A Dark Consequence
But there is a downside to the black locust. It doesn’t stay confined to one place. This invasive species spreads fast through underground runners. It is in some ways similar to the tree of heaven, the Ailanthus Altissima, which traveled from China to the American continent, again assisted by French botanists. But scientists are faced with a similar problem as the ‘tree of hell’ kills biodiversity wherever it is planted.
Czech scientists dwelled on the issue recently and concluded that it has become difficult to decide whether the black locust ought to be cultivated, tolerated, or totally eradicated for its invasive properties. The answer perhaps lies in individual local studies.
Paris’ oldest tree stands as a silent reminder that historical decisions can never be undone, even in the natural domain. We can merely seek to better manage it.