Usefulness and services of the tree :
Features and characters of the individual
This tree is hard to miss; you cannot help but notice it. Its majesty and its spectacular, silvery, reflective foliage occupy the roundabout. It sits in the middle of the traffic, capturing the pollution from thousands of vehicles passing under its crown everyday. It is one of the oldest trees planted during the development of the boulevard. Its position in the centre of the roundabout has protected it ever since. Isolated with just enough soil and light (a rarity for a tree in the city), it shows exactly what a tree is capable of when planted in good conditions. (Overview)
An Elder Statesman of the Region
A focal point in the landscape
The lime tree on Boulevard des Invalides was planted in the 1930s, not in the middle of a field, but at the centre of a roundabout. Everything revolves around him: the thousands of motor vehicles each day, the municipal greenskeepers, the dogs walked by their masters. This tree belongs to a species that is especially resistant to air pollution and drought. It is able to grow at the centre of this maelstrom: seemingly undisturbed by the surrounding chaos. With the typical bearing of those solitary lime trees that grow free from competition from other trees, he has been able to cultivate a magnificent, generous crown that grows thickly and evenly above the traffic. He has singlehandedly become the roundabout.
Marking time and history
Since the French Revolution, lime trees have often been planted to mark or commemorate historical events. It is an act that can truly preserve a date for posterity, as these trees are able to live for over 1000 years. Thus, tens of thousands of lime trees grow in France, symbolising Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
This particular individual was planted in 1930 to commemorate the centenary of Belgian independence. These historical connections are quite subtle: very few passers-by would make the effort to cross the roundabout to read the commemorative plaque at the foot of the tree. Today, this lime tree has become a monument in its own right. It seems to have gained more fame for its presence and survival in the urban setting than it ever did for the birth of Belgium.
A feast for the senses
The Tilia tomentosa is fairly common in Brussels. In Latin, ‘tomentosa’ means ‘hairy’. That's because the backs of the leaves of the lime tree are covered in fine white down, which becomes iridescent in the sun. The silvery reflections accent the tree’s fairly dull, dark green foliage, hence its common name: the ‘silver’ lime.
In autumn, this foliage turns a warm, rich, deep-yellow colour. It wears this seasonal finery for a long time. Its colour and light effects are hard to miss.
The sight is all the more striking in the case of the Boulevard des Invalides lime tree as it can be seen from all sides and is reflected in the windows of the surrounding buildings. Its image is etched in the collective memories of the commuters and locals. The tree is not only easy on the eyes. It also filters pollution and perfumes the whole neighbourhood. In July, its white blossoms have an intense, sweet, almost heady scent. It is so lovely, you might even forget the smell of traffic exhaust. And when the traffic thins, the songs of the few birds who make it their home is music to the ears. This tree certainly has a lot going for it.
Not quite so static
The Invalides lime tree appears all the more static in its position like the eye of a hurricane, with everything whirling around it. Yet it is not a static as it looks. In fact, its seeds are designed to travel on the wind. Each one is enclosed in a winged bract: like an ultra-lightweight leaf. This tiny ‘sail’ allows them to fly like mini helicopters, propelled by autumn gusts, and to scatter all around the neighbourhood. At the same time, this tree has its own way of sending messages. Its fragrant flowers attract bees from several miles away by emitting volatile organic molecules which are picked up by the pollinators.
This portrait is enriched with an illustration from the Belgian Federal State Collection on permanent loan to the Meise Botanical Garden. See attached. Thanks to the library (heritage collection) for this contribution. https://www.plantentuinmeise.be/en/home/