Wonder no more what those trees are on your Paris boulevard or in your favorite park. Now you can come here to find out!
Why does Paris look so dead in the winter? It's because the majority, 98%, of the trees planted in the city are deciduous (they lose their leaves in the winter). There is a specific reason for this. The heavy pollution in the city coats the trees' leaves and clogs up the pores that the tree needs for gas exchange. A tree that loses its leaves, though, once a year will always have fresh leaves and pores with which to grow. Therefore it's very common to plant deciduous trees in cities since they tend to tolerate pollution better.
English Common Name
French Common Name
- Horse Chestnut
- Marronnier commun
- Aesculus hippocastanum L.
- Hippocastanaceae, (Horse Chestnut family)
- There are two versions in Paris, the white flowered tree, and the red flowered one. The red flowered one is actually a hybrid: Aesculus x carnea. The tree originates from the south of Europe. The leaves are unmistakable as they resemble 5 fingered palm leaves, with long leaves ending in a point. The fruit look like spiky round greenish balls, with a brown nut inside. The nuts may look edible and the name of the tree may fool you, but they are not edible, and toxic unless treated properly. Places in Paris to view this tree are: Cluny Museum, Medieval gardens, 5th arr. All over Paris and along many boulevards.
- Ailanthus altissima.,
- Simaroubaceae (Quassia family)
- This tree comes from N China, and was introduced into Europe in 1750. It grows rapidly and tolerates pollution, thus a favorite choice for urban settings. The leaves are made up of as many as 11-12 leaflets, and are commonly confused with Frêne. The distinguishing characteristic is the tip, which ends in a double leaflet rather than just one like the Frêne. Also, on the leaves of the Tree of Heaven (Ailante) you'll see a little notched point near the bottom of the leaf that you don't see on the Frêne. Places in Paris to view this tree are: Cluny Museum Medieval gardens, 5th arr., all the way down boulevard St. Marcel 5th arr. Along many boulevards in Paris.
- Houx commun
- Ilex aquifolium
- The Holly is long associated with religious holidays such as Christmas and the New Year. The leaves and berries were used medically as laxatives, and the tree is native to Europe. The trees are either male or female, and therefore you will not see berries on all trees.Places to view this tree are: Cluny Museum Medieval gardens, 5th arr.
- Érable negundo
- Acer negundo
- The leaves on this tree don't look like the typical maple tree leaves, but instead are formed by 5-7 leaflets. The leaves on this tree could be confused or compared to those on the Frene or the Tree of Heaven, but lack as many leaflets. It was first introduced to England in 1688, and originated from the SW of China. Places in Paris to view this tree are: Cluny Museum Medieval gardens, 5th arr.
- Corylus avellana
- The nuts on the Hazel tree are edible and have been collected and used by man since prehistory. The Hazel tree grows all over France, across Europe into Asia minor and down into the north of Africa. It's found not only in the woods but is commonly used as a hedge. The soft, somewhat wrinkled, heart-shaped leaves have serrated edges and a strong point at the end. The nuts begin to appear in June/July and are usually in groups of 3 or 4. Places in Paris to view this tree are: Cluny Museum Medieval gardens, 5th arr.
- Néflier commun
- Mespilus germanica L.
- Medlar is a native to SE Europe, and the Greeks and Romans long associated this tree with the god Saturn. In the middle ages this plant was widely cultivated since the fruits could be eaten in the middle of winter. This plant can be identified by its oblong leaves that are quite fuzzy on the bottom, single large white flowers in the spring, and little round fruits. Places in Paris to view this tree are: Cluny Museum Medieval gardens, 5th arr.
- Pyrus cydonia (Cydonia oblonga Mill.)
- This tree originated from central Asia and was widely cultivated by the Romans and Greeks for its fruit. This is the only species in this genus. Long oblong green leaves and a 5 petaled pinkish-white flower in the spring identify it. The flower is somewhat solitary as compared to other trees in the Rosaceae, such as prunes and cherries.Places in Paris to view this tree are: Cluny Museum Medieval gardens, 5th arr.
- Acer pseudoplatanus L
- The sycamore maple is largely cultivated across both countryside gardens and found in the wild. It can be very large, to smaller in gardens. The leaves come in a variety of colors which make it a popular choice for ornamental planting. A key identification characteristic of this plant is that its leaves grow in pairs that are opposite to each other, and the leaves are smaller than some maples and look to have only 3 main lobes. However, don't confuse it with the Montpelier Maple, which is smoother in texture and appearance. Places in Paris to view this tree: Cluny Museum Medieval gardens, 5th arr.
- Platanus hybrida (platanus x hispanica; syn. P. x acerifiolia)
- You will find the Sycamore quite widespread around Paris, lining many boulevards. The leaves of this tree are easily confused with those of the maple tree family (Aceraceae). But upon viewing the spotted pastel brown, green, yellow and greyish bark and the round prickly fruits, one will see that it's no maple. The little round fruit hanging from the branches make it look like a Christmas tree with ornaments placed on it. The bark looks dappled with color due to the manner in which it flakes.The species you see in the cities of Paris, London and elsewhere are a hybrid between the Oriental Sycamore (Platanus orentalis) and the American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis).They are susceptible to Dutch Elm disease as well, and signs of this infection can be seen in many of the trees about Paris. Places in Paris to view this tree are: Cluny Museum Medieval gardens, 5th arr., along many boulevards in Paris, and pretty much everywhere.
- Mirabelle (Prunier)
- Prunus cerasifera
- This tree originated in Asia and first arrived in Italy in the16th century. This tree has lots of white or pink flowers in the spring, and will remind you of cherry tree blossoms as they're in the same plant family. In France it's used to make sweet tarts, jam, and other sweet delights. There are many hybrids of this species, adjusting the size of the fruit and the color of the leaves, while some trees even have very dark purple leaves prized for their ornamental beauty in gardens. The flowers arrive before the leaves even open up, and once pollinated become little round plum-looking fruits that are a pale green in the summer and then change into a beautiful reddish color as the summer progresses. Places in Paris to view this tree: Cluny Museum Medieval gardens, 5th arr.
- Paulownia imperial
- Paulownia tomentosa
- This tree originates from China and is most beautiful in the very early spring when its long large upright multiple purple flowers bloom before even the leaves have appeared. When the leaves arrive they are very large, grand, and oval in a heart-like shape, sometimes having round smooth edges and sometimes with one or two little points along the edges. The leaves grow in pairs, opposite to each other, and are some of the largest tree-leaves you'll see anywhere in Paris. The bark is dark brown and coarse. The fruit are oval capsules that open up to let the seeds out later in the summer. Places in Paris to view this tree: Place d'Itali 13th arr, Place L. Lepine on Ile de la Cite where the flower markets are 4th arr, Quai Branly in front of the Eiffel Tower 7th arr, square St. Severin 5th arr, Place de l'Emir Abdelkader 5th arr, Jardin des Plantes 5th arr.
Large Leaved Lime
- Tilia x vulgaris,
- This tree is native to Europe and has been known since antiquity for it's medicinal values. The flowers are collected and used to make a bed-time tea known for it's calming properties. The little hanging yellowish-white flowers can't be missed in June and July. The leaves are simple rounded heart-shaped leaves that grow in an alternate fashions, and which are slightly unsymmetrical on each half. There are many varieties and hybrids, some even with silver undersides that give the tree a pretty sheen in the light. Places to see this tree: it can be found all over Paris, lining many of the main boulevards.
- Viorne Obier,
Boule-de-neige, Sureau des marais
- Viburnum opulus L.
- The leaves on this one will at first make you think it's some kind of Maple, but the bunches of white flowers in the spring and the bunches of red berries in the summer will show you that it's not.The leaves are more wrinkled than a Maple too, with deep impressions for the veins.It has been cultivated since the 16th century, being popular in the gardens of Paris, and originated in Holland. The bark was used for medicinal remedies against cramps and the berries can be eaten or even turned into jelly, though eating large quantities is toxic.
- Sureau noir
- Sambucus nigra L.
- This plant has been cultivated since antiquity for its edible and therapeutic values. The bark, leaves, flowers and fruits can all be used in various ways, from food to herbal infusions to jelly to cordials and more, and exhibit the properties of a diuretic and purgative. Careful about using it, and make sure you process the parts right or they could be toxic. This species is often also confused with Red Elder, a cousin that looks very similar, thought the latter has smaller leaves that are less jagged along the edges. Also, the white flower heads of Black Elder sit upright towards the sky while on the Red Elder they hang down. When there are berries they are easily distinguished by the differences in color: black/blue vs red. Places to see this tree: parks and gardens in Paris, countryside around Paris.
Gaïac des Allemands
- Fraxinus excelsior L.
- The Ash has long leaves composed of many smaller leaflets. There are between 7-13 leaflets per leaf. The leaves will remind one of the Tree of Heaven (Ailante), and so it's commonly mistaken for the Tree of Heaven.The way to tell them apart is that this tree's composed leaves ends in just one leaflet, while the Tree of Heaven ends in two. Also, the leaves on the Ash have serrated edges that cover all the edges of the leaflets, while on the Tree of Heaven they're mostly smooth except for some notches and a small points just at the base of the leaflets. In some regions they produce a drink from the leaves of this tree called "la Frênette", and an elixir can be made from its bark. It grows all over Europe and the white colored wood is used in many of the same ways as the Oak (Chêne), but is less durable than Oak.
- Tulipier de Virginie
- Liriodendron tuliperfera L.
- Magnoliaceae (Magnolia Family)
- You can't mistake the leaves on this tree as they look like little cat heads! Their 4 pointed shape will catch your eye, as will their large yellow magnolia-style flowers. The Tuliptree is native to Eastern North America. It was first planted in Europe in 1629, and in France in 1732. The tree is known for its pretty foliage in the fall as the leaves turn colors and prepare to fall off. Places in Paris to view this tree: Bercy Park, 12th arr. Parc Montsouris (next to the lake), 13th arr. Parc Floral at Vincennes Forest.
- Crataegus laevigata
- This large bush to small tree has spines all over it, as most rose family species do. It's native to Europe and in the spring sports many white 5-petaled flowers along its branches, which then become red rose-hips later in the summer. The fruit is collected and used to make various things in France such as jelly and medicinal tinctures due to the high levels of vitamin C in it, and the fruit also have diuretic and astringent properties. In the middle ages the bush was a sign of fidelity, and for much of France's history it was used as a hedge since the spines helped to keep intruders out. Places in Paris to view this tree: Cluny Museum Medieval gardens, 5th arr.
- Chêne sessile
- Quercus petraea
- This oak tree is the king in all the forests in France, along with the Chêne pedoncule. It spans across Europe and can reach as much as 45 meters high. The numerous lobed leaves are easy to distinguish. In this species there is no little stem holding the acorn to the branch and instead its growing directly on the branch (sessile). The Oak was very important in the Galoise and Celtic cultures of France. Places in Paris to view this tree: this tree is best seen in the large forests to the east and west of Paris: Boulogne and Vincennes.
- Chêne pédonculé
- Quercus robur
- This oak tree is the other king in all the forests in France, along with the Chêne sessile. It is native to Europe the same as the Sessile Oak and its leaves are many lobed as well. It can be confused with the Pedunculate Oak since they look so similar, but to tell them apart simply look for the acorns as they are different to the Sessile Oak. In the Pedunculate Oak all acorns grown in 1 or 2s on little stems that hold them out away from the branch. The Oak was very important in the Galoise and Celtic cultures of France. Places in Paris to view this tree: this tree is best seen in the large forests to the east and west of Paris: Boulogne and Vincennes.
- Orme Champêtre
- Ulmus minor
- One of the most common forest trees in France, you'll see this species growing in most places. It suffers from Dutch Elm Disease, as many elms do. It's often confused with European Hornbeam. You can tell the two species apart by the color of the bark, which is more coarse, as well as by the leaves and by the seeds. The leaves are double serrated along the edges and asymmetrical at the base, which means the two halves of the leaves are not identical in shape. The seed are small flat oval like seeds that appear in the later summer. Places in Paris to view this tree: this tree is best seen in the large forests to the east and west of Paris: Boulogne and Vincennes. St-Germain-en-Laye forest.
- Charme commun
- Caprinus betulus
(Beech tree family)
- One of the most common forest trees in France, it often grows near the smooth-leaved elm. You can tell it apart from the elm by the color of the bark, which is a smoother gray, by the leaves and by the seeds. The leaves are two times longer than they are wide, serrated along the edges, with red petiols, and the leaves are symetrical in shape unlike the elm. The seeds, when mature, are little oval capsules that can be seen strewn across the forest floor. Places in Paris to view this tree: this tree is best seen in the large forests to the east and west of Paris: Boulogne and Vincennes. St-Germain-en-Laye forest.
**Photo Credit: Flickr CC - Some rights reserved by Karol Franks