The Tervuren Arboretum, the hidden pearl of the Sonian forest: a world tour in just a few walks
Do you despair of banned or inadvisable travel? Go back for a walk or go and discover the Arboretum de Tervuren. It takes you to explore the temperate forests of the northern hemisphere. From California via Quebec, Siberia, Greece, Turkey, Nepal or Japan …
In the preface to a new work devoted to him, Philippe de Spoelberch, Honorary President of the Belgian Society of Dendrology, defends this exceptional living heritage: “What we Belgians do not know is that this arboretum is a monument of world quality and importance. American chestnut Castanea dentata disappeared from the forests of the United States; a visitor to this country had tears in his eyes when he saw the beautiful copies of Tervuren. A beautiful program.
A forest arboretum
The Forêt de Soignes, the capital’s green lung, exceptional cathedral beech wood, is interspersed with large estates such as Parc Solvay in La Hulpe, Bois de la Cambre in Brussels or Parc de Tervuren. The Tervuren arboretum and the surrounding Bois des Capucins belong to the Royal Donation following an agreement between King Leopold II and the Belgian State. Collections of trees and forest areas are brought together in an elegant landscaped park with a royal promenade, purple beech trees, meadows, ponds and green valleys.
The arboretum is distinguished first of all by its forest aspect. Planted with different sets of mixed trees rather than individual specimens, it is maintained by silvicultural methods to observe typical forest landscapes, promote them and reproduce different ecosystems. At the end of the 19th century, 25 forest arboretums were born in Belgium at a time when it was necessary not only to reforest but also to acclimatize exotic species to test their productivity, the quality of their wood, their performance and increase the relatively limited number of European species. . Hence the douglas plantations, Pseudotsuga menziesii, Japanese larches, Larix kaempferi, or American red oaks, Quercus rubra. Today, most of the forest arboreta have disappeared, notably for lack of interest in exotic plants, but Tervuren remains THE place of reference with its countless mature trees, including 300 remarkable and 33 champions listed in the Beltrees, the database which lists remarkable trees in Belgium.
Unique in the world, the Tervuren arboretum is geographical. The species are not systematically classified by genus and family but according to their origin. The idea is to group together in a plot all the plants from the same region of the world and to imitate the natural composition of a forest of American, Asian or European origin. All proportions kept of course. There is an aesthetic exception to this principle: in certain strategic places, a few standing trees with a particular silhouette or remarkable colors are planted.
Charles Bommer, botanist, curator of the national botanical garden and professor at ULB is the designer. In 1902 on 120 ha, under the cover of oaks aged 15 to 30 years, he began the gradual planting of trees from 80 different forest regions. Today, 700 species and 30,000 trees and shrubs, essentially “wild collected”, – taken from their natural environment -, are installed in the 40 specific areas of this park with various reliefs, dotted with perspectives, openings and vast meadows serving as breathing between densely planted beds.
Having become a model of its kind, it is divided into 2 large parts, the old world covering Europe, North Africa and Asia and the new one with a much larger area dedicated to the North American continent. With an exceptional section of the Araucaria of Chile for your viewing pleasure. A century ago, the flora of the new world made dreams come true, in particular the gigantic trees of the southern west coast such as the redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, the highest in the world with its 110m. That said, the douglas, Pseudotsuga menziesii, also impresses as the western redcedar, Thuja plicata, Lawson’s cypress, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana or Sitka spruce, Picea sitchensis to recite nobody else but them.
Looking to the future
The managers of the place do not only maintain and maintain the collections. Their challenge? Develop them in a sustainable and eco-responsible manner, taking into account the various current factors such as climate change accompanied by storms and long droughts. The study of their grouped growth and the observation of mature trees originating from very different climatic zones are in-depth. Indeed, even those who are well acclimatized suffer, contract new diseases or perish. New plantings of native species – beech, pedunculate oak, sherry oak, cherry and lime – are planned among mature trees and in areas that have become too open.
An accurate and detailed book with photos, graphics, maps and documents has just been published. A true pearl written by the managers of the place which pays tribute to this fabulous living collection. To put in the hands of dendrologists and other tree enthusiasts. A website completes the work in a great concern of popularization so that the Arboretum of Tervuren with obvious scientific interest, is not only accessible but also adopted by all.
Geographical Arboretum of Tervuren A world tour through the trees by Patrick Huvenne, Wilfried Emmerechts, Willy Verbeke and Kevin Knevels, La Donation Royale, 2020, ISBN 978-94-640-7106-1