France: Beech tree planted for Marie Antoinette has fallen

VERSAILLES, France – It survived the French Revolution and a
devastating 1999 storm, but high winds have finally toppled a towering
beech tree planted for Marie Antoinette more than two centuries ago at
Versailles Palace. The 82-foot (25-meter) high purple beech, one of
the last trees in a hamlet dedicated to the former queen in the vast
palace park, was felled Friday by an unusually fierce winter gust, the
park’s head gardener said.

“Imagine how an old tree in Versailles is
vulnerable to the wind,” gardener Alain Baraton told AP Television
News on Tuesday. “That was all it took to cause the tree to fall and
crash.” At least 21 people died in the winter storm that pounded
France and Spain last week. The 223-year-old tree’s collapse, which
also exhumed a jumble of roots, earth and grass, was the latest blow
to the ex-queen’s Versailles vegetation after her most cherished oak
tree died in a 2003 heat wave.

The beech, a facus sylvatica purpura,
featured its own plaque showing that it was planted in 1786. A decade
ago, it had been damaged but survived an even more destructive storm
that knocked down thousands of trees at Versailles. Following that
tempest, the beech’s roots had grown moldy and shrunk so much that
they could no longer counterbalance the weight of its 22-meter
(72-foot) span of branches, Baraton said. The beech will get an
unceremonious finish: It will be cut up and sold to paper makers, he

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