For the past ten years, I’ve admired the row of trees on the opposite side of the street from our apartment building. In spring their blossoms are the most delicate mauve – unlike their larger counterparts, the horse chestnut and plane trees, these delicate trees keep to themselves like a cluster of chummy old friends.
Finally, after five years of admiring them, I asked a friend what they might be called in French. She shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t know much about trees – but they could be catalpa,” she suggested. In the corner of Luxembourg gardens where the Tai Chi practitioners meet, there’s another grove of catalpa trees – or so I thought they were called until I found them to be named paulownia trees.
Paulownia trees or paulownia-tomentosa are Chinese in origin. It is commonly called the Empress tree or the Princess Tree (relating to the Pavlovna, daughter of Tsar Paul I of Russia) The leaf shape and the tubular fox-glove shaped flower closely resembles the catalpa (there is a species of paulownia referred to as catalpa) but I will not rest now until I have found the exact species name for these trees that have blossomed unfailingly for so many years. My French dictionary uses refers to this family ‘scrofulariacees’ – ” an Extreme Orient decorative tree whose perfumed blossoms are mauve in color. The tree was named ‘paulownia’ for Anna Pavlovna, the daughter of Tsar Paul I, 1864. It is a lovely delicate tree – and although Anna Pavlova, the star ballerina of the Bolshoi was not yet born when these trees were originally brought to France, perhaps some gardener may have been thinking of Pavlova when the more recent trees were planted. Certainly each tree in Paris has its story (but only the gardener knows the true story).
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If you stay in Paris long enough, you end up finding your favorite tree – for one blogger at Rue Rude, the favorite is a beech tree in the Bois de Boulogne. You too, will find your favorite tree – eventually.