A botanical garden
At the heart of the Bois de Vincennes, the Parc Floral de Paris was designed in 1969 by the landscape architect Daniel Colin on the site of former military facilities. The removal of the Pyramide and Cartoucherie buildings made way for a space which could host the 3rd Floralies Internationales de Paris, a major flower show. In addition to hosting shows, concerts, exhibitions and children's games, this 30-hectare (74 acres) garden is home to rich botanical collections, both in pavilions and outdoors. Its botanical diversity is of great interest on a national and international level. The Parc Floral displays a constantly changing landscape in which horticulture and wildlife exist in harmony. Since 1998, the Serres d'Auteuil garden, the Bagatelle Park, the Du Breuil School of Horticulture and Arboretum and the Parc Floral have collectively been granted the official label "Botanical Gardens of France and French-speaking countries" by botanical authorities. These four sites - each with a distinct history, architectural and horticultural heritage - represent over 83 hectares (205 acres) and some 25,000 plants gathered into collections and reconstructed environments.The Parc Floral and the Arboretum of Paris to the east of the capital, with the Garden and Greenhouses of Auteuil and the Park of Bagatelle in the west are the 4 sites of the Botanical Garden of Paris with the label " Botanical garden of France and the French-speaking countries ". With a total surface area of 73 ha, (180 acres) these four sites possess more than 15,000 botanical and horticultural species and varieties grouped into collections.
The 995 hectares (2.460 acres) of the Bois de Vincennes and the 846 hectares (2.091 acres) of the Bois de Boulogne are two urban forests and biodiversity reserves on the outskirts of the city. They are composed of different environments, such as clearings and glades where light intensity determines the distribution of plant layers: trees, shrubs, grasses, mosses and lichens. Hundreds of species of plants can be found alongside varied and unobtrusive wildlife. The woods produce a large amount of organic matter enriching the forest leaf litter inhabited by many animals such as molluscs, insects, terrestrial crustaceans, centipedes, spiders etc. The two woods are open to city dwellers eager to take advantage of these verdant zones. The woods serve as a venue for various activities, responding to visitors’ needs like Sunday strollers, jogging fans, bird lovers and botanical enthusiasts. The large number of visitors - 11 million visitors a year in the Bois de Vincennes and 6 million in the Bois de Boulogne- and creates a strain on these precious reserves. Intensive trampling, flower picking, noise, barking and illegal parking render these zones vulnerable. All this commotion causes the disappearance and decline of wildlife that escapes to quieter, preserved areas. Paris and neighbouring boroughs are engaged in a cooperative process of rehabilitation and protection of the natural environment in these forests (ISO 14001 Certified Management). The creation of enclosed spaces - reforestation areas, zones of protected ecological interests (ZIEP) and bird sanctuaries - ensures the tranquillity of the flora and fauna while facilitating wildlife observation for enthusiasts. Gentle maintenance methods (differentiated mowing, the use of draught horses and species diversification) are meant to increase biodiversity. The sharp reduction in traffic and parking, which fragment the woods, grants priority to green transportation. Sustainable actions incorporated by local communities and associations mean that visitor expectations can be compatible with the conservation of the woods..
The Botanical Garden of the city of Paris is composed of four gardens. The Auteuil greenhouses combine the elegance of formal gardens, the exoticism of tropical plants and late 19th century architectural charm. The Parc de Bagatelle is famous for its exceptional rose garden and the grace of its landscaped gardens in Anglo-Chinese and French styles. The Arboretum at the Ecole Du Breuil houses over 1,200 trees comprising more than 500 different species, and presents several ecosystems representative of the Paris region (country hedges, ponds and wetlands). The parc Floral displays very rich botanical collections both in pavilions and outdoors. They are of the greatest importance on a national as well as international level one can find a constantly changing landscape made of horticultural and wild plants. The Botanical Gardens’ missions contribute to the conservation of the diversity of wildlife species and hybrids bred by man over the centuries, as well as conducting research activities such as the study of plants and their potential uses, collaborating with the other botanical gardens around the world and informing and educating the public in matters of botany and ecology. The City of Paris Botanical Garden features a herbarium, a fruit collection, a seed collection and a living seed bank. The seminum index (list of living seeds) is restricted to exchanges between botanical gardens and scientific organisations, in accordance with the biodiversity convention.
The cedar grove
Walk around the right side of the Maison du Parc et du Bois (the Park and Woods Centre); this information centre is the place to find publications, documents and brochures as well as temporary exhibitions. Behind it, stands an impressive Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica), native to the Atlas Mountains in North Africa. This conifer which can reach 40m (130 feet) high is easily recognizable by its bluish-green clusters of short needles.
On the lawn, the discreet but sculptural form of a Tanyosho pine (Pinus densiflora Umbraculifera), has a crooked red-brown trunk. The original species, the Japanese red pine, one of the most common pines in Japan, has given rise to over 90 varieties. They are widely used for bonsais. This one is under 5 metres (10 feet) tall. Even smaller, its neighbour the mountain pine (Pinus mugo) is barely 3 metres (16 feet) tall, with attractive twisted and trailing branches.
From late March, primroses, crocuses and vivid purple-blue anemones appear among the undergrowth.
This forest area is divided into two zones, one of cedars and the other of oaks. It reduces the effect of the urban heat island phenomenon and cools the atmosphere.
The forested areas of the Parc Floral, like the two wooded parks of Paris (the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes) are carbon stores. They help reduce the greenhouse effect by trapping CO2 which is responsible for climate change. The air quality is better in the woods because of their distance from sources of pollution, they also improve the air quality by capturing some of the fine particles.
Trees are “natural air conditioners”, in that they offer a cooling system by means of water evaporation and thanks to the shade cast on the ground by their foliage. Many factors contribute to heat storage on hot summer days: facades and roofs, densely packed buildings, asphalt sidewalks and streets, as well as the narrowness of certain streets which prevent air currents. For all these reasons, the average temperature is 2 to 3°C (3.6 to 5.4 °F) higher in Paris than in rural or suburban areas. The air is also drier and more polluted. Stored up during the day and released at night, this heat prevents nocturnal cooling and causes uncomfortably high temperatures for city dwellers during heat waves. Green spaces and trees play an important role in the fight against extreme city heat. Surveys of summer temperatures at midday on the edge of a wooded area confirm that water loss from plants cools the air nearby.
Trees are large photosynthetic living beings that absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, producing their sugar-rich nutrients under the effect of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Through this process, they release oxygen into the atmosphere and in this respect - much like the seaweeds and phytoplankton of the oceans - they are extremely valuable for the renewal of air composition, particularly during their growth phase. Trees constitute carbon sinks contributing to the reduction of the greenhouse effect.
At the edge of the forest
Take the Allée des Pins on your left, which leads to a pond where kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) are often spotted. These expert divers with their brilliant feathers - bright blue backs and a red chest- fish for their prey here, feasting on aquatic insects and small fish.
This is also the mating spot in March and April for the common frog (Rana temporaria) which burrows into the dark, damp undergrowth for the rest of the year. These frogs differ from the agile frog (Rana dalmatina) because of their much shorter hind legs.
On your right, the narrow paved path is bordered by a collection of ferns, which in the spring is dotted with white narcissi and the violet-pink of hellebores.
A magnificent common beech (Fagus sylvatica) spreads its roots over the path. The most common trees found in European forests after the oaks, these beech trees grow well in the shade of oaks which filter the light with their sparse foliage and offer enough moisture to the saplings. In Paris, the dry climate is less suited to the beech tree, however beeches makes up almost 9% of the woodland trees where they are often planted. This tree species lives around 150 years on average and occasionally up to 300 years. Its fruit, the beechnut, is enjoyed by both wild and domestic animals. Grilled beechnuts can also be used as a substitute for coffee.