The Canal Du Midi is unique in the fact that it is surrounded by thousands of trees. Many of these trees are of a variety called Plane Trees, or Plantanes in French. The scientific name is Platanus x acerifolia. It was introduced in France in 1770 and its main purpose was to provide firewood. This tree is very common in Europe, and can be seen in large numbers anywhere in France including downtown Paris. London and other UK cities are also home to thousands of these plane trees. The tree is classified as a fast grower.
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The Canal Du Midi is currently being replanted with a new type of Sycamore tree called the PlatanorTM . These are being used to replace the current Sycamore trees there. The current variety is not resistant to a relatively new fungi in France: ceratocystis fimbriata platani. To slow the spread of the disease—commonly known as canker stain—the affected trees must be cut down, which are replaced with the new hardy species.
It is claimed that the fungus was introduced in Europe towards the end of World War 2, via wooden ammunition boxes from America. The wood used in these ammunition boxes came from the American sycamore.
The University of Toulouse, in collaboration with others, has developed a vaccine which has entered into a test phase in 2016. If this vaccine is successful, it would be a blessing for the thousands of Plane trees still left in France.
The trees are marked during summer time, and cut down in the autumn and spring. Winter cutting is not allowed, due to certain species of birds nesting in these trees.
The new trees planted along the Canal Du Midi are called the Platanor tree, which is a registred trademark. They all have a microchip in them as well.
All Plane Trees Planted in 1830’s.
It must be noted that the plane trees did not originally line the Canal Du Midi. The plane trees were added during the 1830’s. This fact means that all these trees are about the same age, and thus would start dying all at about the same time. Thus, if the fungus had not come along, these trees would eventually have to be replaced anyway all at the same time. Even the VNF has acknowledged this.
Other Trees Along the Canal Du Midi
Paul Riquet’s original plan for the Canal Du Midi was to line them with mulberry trees. Why mulberry trees? Because Paul Riquet wanted to get into the silk business. And silk worms only live in mulberry trees. The project, however, never got started. Instead, the banks of the Canal Du Midi were originally lined with simple crops, just like the surrounding fields. In 1725, however, the growing of crops along the banks became illegal due to the damage they were causing to the canal banks. Trees were first added to the Canal Du Midi after 1725, starting with olive trees close to the Mediterranean. Mulberry trees were added a few years later between Trebes and Carcassonne, but they did not grow well and were later cut down. Other species of trees added during this first planting session were willows (used to make baskets) and elm trees (for lumber). The trees primary purpose was to be exploited.
In 1774 the Count of Caraman starting lining the banks of the Canal Du Midi with the newly introduced Italian Poplar tree. These Italian Poplar trees dominated the landscape until 1810, after which they were cut down and replaced with elm, ash, and plane trees. In the later 1800’s, the elm trees suffered a disease and most of them were killed. At that time growing plane trees in nurseries had boomed, and thus they were in large supply. The plane trees main purpose at the time was to provide firewood. Coal, however, was also becoming more abundant at this time. Coal soon put an end to plane trees being grown for firewood. Since plane trees were still abundantly available, they were now also being used to line the Canal Du Midi banks.
In 1927, National Geographic explorers traveling the Canal Du Midi wrote that "unbroken miles of trees shield the canal from the sweeping winds." "Here are venerable oak glades, there alleys of plane trees, and yonder spear-straight pines or somber walls of cypress. Often ranks of the different species parallel each other in a multiplied depth of sylvan shelter for barge traffic." They noted that the main purpose of these trees was to break the wind for the barges on the canal. (National Geographic magazine, August 1927, page 143).
There are about 200.000 trees lining the banks of the Canal Du Midi. About 42.000 of these are Plane Trees. The diseased plane trees are being replaced by new trees each year as well, albeit at a slow rate due to lack of money. The replacement trees are of a fungi resistant variety called PLATANOR®. And in order to avoid a similar situation to arise in the future, several other species of trees are added as well. No more mono-culture is allowed along the Canal Du Midi.
A Problem Unique to the Canal Du Midi only? Not really…
Unfortunately there are many other similar stories in the world at any given moment. Here are some examples:
The world is always changing. Mankind can not always control everything, or even begin to understand why things are happening. The main point I am trying to make is that this is not the end of the world.
“If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.”
Here is a picture supplied by an Italian nursery. The picture on the left is from 2010, when the grower planted the trees. The trees were at that time 3 years old. Thus the pictures on the right shows plane trees 7 years old.
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The image above is from the same nursery in Italy. It shows sycamore (platanus, or plane tree) that have been growing for 5 years. The branches will spread out if the trees are moved into an open space.
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Above is a picture of a Platanus Tree growing area at a Spanish nursery. All these trees are 13 years old. The trunks of the trees in this group varied from 25 to 45 cm according to the grower. The grower says they are fast growing trees. He also says that the way trees grow in the nursery is different then in the open. The trees in the nursery are narrower. As soon as they are moved out to the open, the tree branches will start to spread out again.
Here are a few more pictures from the same group.
Canal Du Midi replacement trees, 13 years old.Canal Du Midi replacement trees, 13 years old.Canal Du Midi replacement trees, 13 years old.Canal Du Midi replacement trees, 13 years old.3 - 4<>
The Canal Du Midi like it was during its golden age when there were no trees either
Pictured below, Canal Du Midi around 100 years ago. Notice the size of the trees on the left bank. The old picture has no trees there yet. For more before & after pictures of the Canal Du Midi visit the Ancient Postcard Pages.