Napoleon’s Legacy…

Old and beautiful Plane trees lining a road between vineyards in Languedoc-Roussillon, France.

The trees made their debut in the Mediterranean at the beginning of the Greek civilisation. On being imported to Rome, Pliny the Elder, noted that it was unusual for a tree to be appreciated solely for its shade and recalled how the Gauls honoured their Plane trees with red wine.

Over the centuries, the beauty of these dappled trees has not been lost on writers, poets and artists either. Plato included a Plane tree as part of his literary scenery in the dialogue Phaedrus with Socrates about love, madness and the immortality of the soul. Artists like Van Gogh enjoyed painting under them, being sheltered from the scorching sun.

But it was Napoleon who ordered the lining of roads with Plane trees (and other tall trees like Ash, Elms and Chestnuts) to provide shade for his marching troops. The trees were cleverly planted to demarcate curves, crossroads and intersections. However, since the invention of cars, there have been many fatalities where people have crashed into the trees and the great French debate continues on whether or not to chop down the trees that are too close to the road. Counter-arguments suggest the trees in fact assist drivers in their perception of speed and are a visual aid to the twists and turns of country lanes. Nor unlike many drivers do they drink too much alcohol or travel too fast…


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