How Do You Know When Spring Has Arrived In Geneva? Check The Chestnut In Old Town

How do you know spring has arrived?  Flowers, spring showers, sundresses or swimming in the lake?  In Geneva’s old town, there is a tree, a chestnut, that is the official harbinger of spring.  Well, maybe it’s only the quasi-official harbinger, but it’s good enough.  In Geneva’s Old Town, on the Promenade de la Treille, is a tree whose first bud marks the official arrival of spring (Marronnier Officiel).  It’s known as “l’eclosion” which translates as “the hatching” or “the blooming” but in this case means “the budding.”

The first bud was charted since 1808!  It has always come sometime between January and the beginning of April, varying considerably (but generally getting progressively earlier).  This year, it arrived on March 13!  It’s official, spring is here.

Since observations began, several trees have been used.  The original from 1818  to 1905, the second from until 1928,  and the current since 1929.  The current tree is so bent over that it has to be propped up with a pole.

In 1808, Marc-Louis Rigaud-Martin began recording the tree’s first bud, likely out of a kind of scientific curiosity.  Since 1818, all the dates have been recorded on a parchment-roll in a special place in Geneva’s State Council chamber.

Workers of the city stroll past the tree over periodically during the key months and even use binoculars to examine the tree in greater detail.  Once, an employee hastily returned from vacation during exceptionally warm weather to avoid missing it!  They know exactly where on the tree to look as the first buds always appear on the eastern side.

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Our Favorite Trees In Geneva

Geneva has Platanus, planes, or plane trees.  They are a hybrid of a couple of different types of Sycamore trees.  These ornamental trees are common here in Europe.

Their umbrella like branches provide shade and line country roads, promenades and town squares.  If not pruned back, they can grow quite large.

Everyone who visits remarks on the trees.  The produce lush foliage, are majestic and lend an elegant air to the lakeside.  However, most visitors are intrigued by/interested in its bark, which has a mottled, scaly appearance.  Mature bark peels off in irregularly shaped patches.

Plane trees have a storied history along roadsides in this area.  Napoleon ordered their extensive planting on roadsides so that he could take advantage of their grand canopies to keep his marching army cool.

Unfortunately, a fungus is attacking them.  During WWII, US soldiers brought munition boxes made from a US version of the tree.  They carried with them a fungus that has been attacking the trees and has spread.

Geneva’s trees look unaffected.  They prune them back in the fall after their leaves have fallen.  With their interesting bark and elegant shape,  we like the look of them in winter too.  Heck, we like them in spring and fall as well.