Remarkable and historic trees


The Wollemi pine

Wollemia nobilis

In 1994, a hundred unknown trees were discovered at the bottom of a remote valley in Wollemi Park, west of Sydney, Australia. They are almost 40 metres tall and are estimated to be between 500 and 1,000 years old. This new genus, Wollemia, is related to the Araucariaceae family (conifers), which were most common in the Jurassic period about 200 million years ago. The discovery of this genus is an important one: confined in a sort of refuge, the habitat of this new species bears witness to the competition that must have taken place between species. To protect the pine, the Australian government keeps its natural habitat secret and disseminates it around the world for propagation in order to reduce the risk of its complete extinction.

The tree of forty écus (1)

Ginkgo biloba
Courtyard of the Paleontology and comparative anatomy gallery

The oldest fossil of the Ginkgo genus dates back to the end of the Primary Era, nearly 250 million years ago. Ginkgo trees, which are very rarely found in the wild, owe their survival to the respect and care that Taoist monks have always given them. The species is dioecious: male and female organs are carried by different specimens, and the two sexes start to shed their leaves about 15 days apart. This characteristic can be seen in this male ginkgo, to which a female branch has been grafted on the lower section. Its name does not refer to its golden foliage in autumn, but rather to the price a rich botanist collector paid for it in 1780.

The tree of forty écus (2)

Ginkgo biloba
Near the Verniquet amphitheatre

The oldest fossil of the Ginkgo genus dates back to the end of the Primary Era, nearly 250 million years ago. Ginkgo trees, which are very rarely found in the wild, owe their survival to the respect and care that Taoist monks have always given them. The species is dioecious: male and female organs are carried by different specimens, and the two sexes start to shed their leaves about 15 days apart. Its name does not refer to its golden foliage in autumn, but rather to the price a rich botanist collector paid for it in 1780.

The American black walnut tree

Juglans nigra

Introduced in England in 1686, the American black walnut has flourished all over Europe. The Museum's black walnut trees were planted around 1862. Native to the central and eastern United States, the mature black walnut tree is much larger and hardier than the common European walnut tree, and has more folioles. It gets its name from the almost black colour of its bark, which contrasts beautifully with the golden tones of its foliage in the autumn. Its dark, moisture-resistant wood is highly sought after for cabinet making. The bitter-tasting kernels of its nuts are difficult to extract.

The Judas tree

Cercis siliquastrum

Planted by Buffon in 1785, this tree belongs to a species native to the Near East and the Mediterranean region. The flowers appear on the trunk before the first leaves, a phenomenon known as "cauliflora", which is very rare in plants growing in temperate regions. The Judas tree belongs to the bean family (Fabaceae), which can be recognised by its characteristically shaped flowers, known as papilionaceous, and by its pods.

"Le robinier de Robin"

Black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia

Jean Robin, arborist to King Henry IV of France, received some Robinia seeds from North America and sowed them in his garden on the Île de la Cité in Paris around 1600. His son, Vespasian, transplanted his father's locust tree to its present location around 1630. It was one of the first two locust trees introduced in Europe. Its part above-ground has long since disappeared, but its roots produced the shoots that now form the present grove. It is, however, the same specimen. The second black locust tree planted by Robin can be seen on Square Viviani in Paris. A little older than the one in the Jardin des Plantes, it is considered the oldest tree in the capital.

"Le Sophora d'Incarville"

Japanese Sophora, Styphnolobium japonicum

Despite its name, the Japanese sophora actually comes from China.

In 1747, Father d'lncarville, a Jesuit naturalist living in China, sent Bernard de Jussieu some seeds of "unknown Chinese trees". Among these were those of the sophora.

This old tree stands 19 metres tall and has a trunk diameter of 112 centimetres. It is in its senescence phase and, in order to preserve it for as long as possible while taking public safety into account, we pruned its crown, loosened the soil and established a safety perimeter.

The Montpellier maple

Acer monspessulanum

This small Mediterranean species grows on all types of soil, as long as it receives enough light. Its leaves fall late in the winter. It was named in the 17th century by the Bauhin brothers, who were students at the Montpellier School of Medicine. At that time, doctors were also botanists who made most of their medicines from plants. The first botanical garden in France came in 1593 when the School of Medicine opened in Montpellier. The Jardin des Plantes de Paris, formerly known as the Jardin Royal des Plantes Médicinales, was created in 1635 on the order of Louis Xlll.

"The Jussieu cedar"

Lebanese cedar, Cedrus libani

Planted in 1734 at the request of Bernard de Jussieu, then curator of the Jardin des Plantes, this tree is the oldest of its kind in France.

Bringing back two small cedars from England, Jussieu dropped the pot containing them near the Jardin des Plantes. The cedars finished their journey in Jussieu’s hat. One of them was planted here. The second was given to Trudaine, Louis XV's finance minister, who planted it on his estate; in 1935, however, it was felled by a storm.

An emblem of Lebanon and threatened by global warming, this tree is classified as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

"The Tournefort maple”

Cretan maple, Acer sempervirens

In 1700, Louis XlV sent Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, botanist at the Jardin du Roy, to the countries of the Levant. He brought lots of new plants back to the Museum, including this maple that is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and Asia Minor, which was planted in 1702. Its name at the time was the "Oriental Ivy-Leaf Maple". This small tree (less than 10 metres tall) is one of the few maples to keep its leaves in winter. Regularly grazed by goats and sheep, it often has the shape and size of a bush in its natural environment.

Oriental Arbor-Vitae

Platycladus orientalis

Like the sophora, the Oriental Arbor-Vitae, or tree of life, which is now common in parks and gardens, comes from seeds that Father d'lncarville sent from China in 1753. This conifer with upright, flattened branches is a shrub or small tree that does not exceed 12 metres in height. In Europe, it is used as an ornamental plant: its dwarf horticultural varieties or those with coloured foliage being the most common. In China and Korea, from where it originates, its wood is used for the construction of Buddhist temples. Its seeds and leaves are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Large acorn oak

Quercus macrocarpa

Appointed royal botanist by Louis XVl, André Michaux (1746-1802), accompanied by his son François-André (1770-1855), explored North America and created a nursery in New Jersey in order to supply France with forest species from that region. This majestic oak comes from a batch of seeds sent by F.A. Michaux and were sown in the Jardin des Plantes in 1811. It is the first of its kind to be introduced in Europe. Of all the North American oaks, it is the most northerly and therefore the most hardy. The Amerindians made flour from the acorns and various remedies from the bark.

Himalayan Weeping Pine

Pinus wallichiana

Planted in 1844, this tree is said to be one of the first to be introduced in France. Its Latin name is a tribute to Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854), a Danish botanist. Elegant, with its long bluish-green needles and pyramidal habit, the Himalayan Weeping Pine can be found in large gardens and parks. Hardy and resistant to disease and pollution, the processionary caterpillar is its only enemy. In its native region, which spans from Afghanistan to Burma, at 1,800 to 4,000 metres above sea level, it can grow up to 40 metres tall. In Europe, it does not grow taller than 15 metres.

London plane

Platanus x hispanica

This tree was planted under Buffon in 1785. The London plane is a hybrid between the oriental plane and the American plane. With the erosion of its slopes, the roots of the "labyrinth" are now exposed. Mostly invisible, the root system of a tree is nonetheless large... and its volume is often estimated to be equal to that of the crown (all the branches of the tree). The roots anchor the tree in the soil and allow it to absorb the water and minerals that are necessary for it to grow.

"Buffon’s plane tree"

Oriental platane, Platanus orientalis

This is one of the three plane trees planted under Buffon in 1785. The Oriental plane tree, which can reach impressive dimensions, was already the object of admiration in ancient times, and the Romans introduced it to Sicily in 390 BC. Slowly spreading northwards, it reached England in 1561. It was hybridised with the American plane (Platanus occidentalis) and introduced into Europe in the 17th century to create the London plane (Platanus x hispanica), which is often planted in rows as an ornamental tree.

Persian ironwood

Parrotia persica

Native to Iran and the Caucasus, this Persian ironwood was transplanted from the garden at the Faculty of Medicine to the Museum in 1900. It is one of the most beautiful specimens in Western Europe. The species is ornamental because its leaves take on beautiful shades from yellow to purple in the autumn. In January, the flower buds with their dark brown scales can be seen opening to reveal the scarlet stamens. It is sometimes referred to as the "ironwood" because its wood is very hard and dense, or the "parrot tree" because of its multi-coloured autumn foliage.

Japanese cherry tree "Shirotae"

Prunus Groupe Sato-zakura "Shirotae"

As a result of thousands of years of selection and hybridisation from a few wild species in China and Japan, there are several hundred varieties of Japanese cherry trees (Prunus Groupe Sato Zakura). These deciduous trees have a variety of blooms and habits. Named after the colour of its flowers, the "Shirotae" (snow white) variety is distinguished by its spread out habit with horizontal branches. It blooms abundantly in April, but for a short period of time.

Dawn redwoods

Metasequoia glyptostroboides

At the beginning of the 20th century, palaeobotanists discovered the metasequoia in the form of fossilised fragments dating back to the Pliocene. In 1941, Chinese forest rangers encountered a small group of trees in the Sichuan region of western China that botanists, to their surprise, determined to belong to the Metasequoia genus. So this fossil lineage was not extinct after all!

In 1948, Sino-American scientific teams brought seeds back to the Boston Botanical Garden and distributed them among all the major botanical gardens in the world. The tree planted in the Jardin des Plantes is part of this first generation.


Actinidia chinensis

The first introduction of two kiwi plants to the Garden – one male and one female – took place in 1899 on the Carré des couches (where the Alpine Garden now stands), but they only lasted a few years. A second attempt produced a thriving vine that grew extensively each year. The gardeners pruned it severely in the spring, but to their dismay, no flowers appeared.

Head gardener Camille Guinet, wanting to learn more about the vegetative cycle of this plant, decided to stop pruning it. In the following spring, the first flowers appeared, followed by fruit some time later on the female plant.

Fau de Verzy

Fagus sylvatica Groupe Tortuosa

This fau ("beech" in Old French) is a beech tree that is characterised by its twisted shape, a bloated trunk that grows horizontally, and is topped by a dome of branches forming a thick, dense weave. In their natural habitat, these trees are only found in small numbers, scattered around the beech forest of Verzy, in Champagne. They propagate mainly by layering: logs lying on the ground take root and grow into a new twisted tree. Among these trees’ natural seedlings, only a few feature this particular habit. Genetic mutation is currently the most likely hypothesis for the "twisted" phenomenon.

Vaillant's pistachio tree

Pistachio tree, Pistacia vera

This pistachio tree was planted around 1700 in the carré des couches (now the Alpine Garden) by Sébastien Vaillant, botanist at the Royal Garden of Medical Plants (the name of the Jardin des Plantes before the French Revolution). Vaillant scientifically demonstrated the sexuality of plants by using this male pistachio plant and the female plant located in the Jardin des Apothicaires (where the National Institute of Agronomy now stands): in 1715, he took pollen from the male flowers and transported it to the Jardin des Apothicaires to pollinate the female flowers. A few weeks later, the first pistachios appeared on the female tree.

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