“Being an Oak”, the story of a 240-year-old tree

The book. The biologist Laurent Tillon has a companion tree, a sessile oak from the forest of Rambouillet (Yvelines), which he has visited regularly since the day when, as a teenager, he stopped under his foliage, during the derailment of the chain of his. bike. In his story, To be an oak (Actes Sud), he names it “Quercus” as he calls “Silva” the forest and “Neuroterus” the parasitic wasp. For him it is a question of trying, while recounting the fate of Quercus, to restore to the living their status as subject without lending them intentionality.

“For those who can listen to him, Quercus becomes an inexhaustible talker. As a long Quercin-human exchange begins, a particularly original diplomatic exchange between the plant, this oak, and the animal, a man », He announces, referring to the concept of diplomat developed by the philosopher Baptiste Morizot.

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It all began with the birth of Quercus in the 1780s, when an acorn fell several meters high from a parent oak tree, to take root in the earth. The forest of Rambouillet is then a royal forest, and the young shoot grows in the shade of the brambles pruned by the villagers, so as to form around it a natural barbed wire fence protecting it from herbivores, while preserving its access to the light. The inhabitants of the surroundings thus pay their tax to the king, eager to populate this forest of majestic oaks forming the idyllic decoration of his hunting pictures.

Memory, adaptation, defense

At the age of 30, in 1810, its trunk was already formed thanks to the renewal of the various tissues allowing the circulation of the sap, while in the center the sapwood accumulates, the dead wood ensuring its maintenance. “Animals rely on a pump to deliver vital fluids, like the heart in mammals. In a tree, no pump. So how do you do it? “, asks the author before detailing the mechanisms of capillarity and osmosis compensating for this deficiency.

The reader thus discovers, from age to age, the history of this tree, rich in its complex interactions with other living beings. Quercus is notably capable of preserving the memory of a caterpillar attack by delaying the budding of its leaves the following year, while producing tannins with various toxicities.

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At his side, modern man continues to use the forest, adapting it to his current needs. After the French Revolution, the Rambouillet forest was used in particular to supply the city of Paris with firewood, while, in the 1950s, it was planted with pines to provide poles for the developing telephone network. However, from the XVIIIe century, voices are raised to denounce this exploitation, starting with that of Rousseau who perceived the forest as a place conducive to meditation. The author summons the philosopher by concluding his story with that of his visit to his tree, at the exit of the first confinement. It invites the reader to reflect on the belief in our ability to master nature, the absurdity of which the Covid-19 pandemic reveals to us more cruelly than ever.

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