Nothing is more natural than for a mother to be proud of her daughter; it is up to the public - the judge of all - to make her understand if she is right. This is why we say that France must be proud of its forestry exhibition, and without wishing to be scientific here, we will develop the public's impression and share it with those whom this curious agglomeration of products has left cold and inattentive. It must unfortunately be acknowledged that, although woods and forests are represented in all our departments, we French are not - except in some parts of the East - a forestry people. We must take our stand on this! If we put aside the people of the trade itself, the rest of the so-called world is profoundly ignorant of the simplest things about wood.
Do you want proof of this?
Let's stay together for half an hour in the middle of the superb collections assembled with so much care and effort by Messrs. Mathieu and de Gayffier: we will see that, apart from a good country lady who absolutely wants to buy a pair of clogs, the rest of the walkers pass by cold and distracted, casting a dazed look at these magnificent specimens which they do not even try to understand, or showing their ignorance by the most absurd reflections!...
It is something, however, O lord of Veston-Court, who is passing by with a banter from your stück, to think that there, close to you, this round of Cembro pine from the Hautes-Alpes, is contemporary with Saint Louis and the Crusades!... It is at least 630 years old; and the tree which, at an altitude of 2300 metres in the mountains, has vegetated in peace for this long series of years, was able, in its youth, to hear the shepherds recount the Crusades against the Albigensians, the great wars of the Counts of Foix and Toulouse and the terrible defeat of Mansourah!...
However, this poor pine tree, the oldest of today's exhibits, is not remarkably large; it is only 2 metres in circumference. But its pink fibre with white sapwood is as hard as iron, and its woody layers - almost microscopic, so tightly packed - make it a first-rate wood. Next to it, the samples of its mountain neighbours, magnificent larches that are four metres in circumference - which is already respectable - are easy to recognise by their red bark, which is one decimetre thick and divided into strings of equal masses around the circumference of the log.
The king of the samples brought there from the four corners of France, was supplied by the old Auvergne. The antiquity of this dean of the ancients is relatively small, he is not two and a half centuries old (237 years)!... He is therefore a young man, - but not a Petit-Crevé! - among the people of the trees, a child next to the Cembro of the Hautes-Alpes; and yet, in its quality of white oak or peduncle, - and certainly disadvantaged by the fortune which made it grow in a ground such as contains Limagne, one of the gardens of France, - it carries 6 meters of turn; that is to say that four people would not surround it with their extended arms! On examining this roundel closely, the homogeneity of which is striking to the less forester's eyes, we found on the right-hand side the trace of a hammer blow struck 75 years ago, the authors of which, alas, are no longer among the visitors to the Universal Exhibition!... This landmark allowed us to see how slow, but nevertheless regular, the growth of this beautiful oak had been since that time and for about a century, a remark that we cannot extend here in its deductions, but which agrees with the current theories of forestry management.
Having greeted these doyens of age and of the cube, let us take a look at the great dignitaries assembled around them to give them a procession of honour. First, here is a round of pedunculated oak from the Adour, 3 m. 50 in circumference at 142 years of age, remarkable for the regularity of its growth and, therefore, for its excellent qualities for the navy. These woods are so rare in our country that they cannot be chosen and highlighted enough, if only to prove that we have everything we need to make them; that all we have to do is let them grow. That would be a consolation!
By the way, it seems to us not unhelpful to reassure our beautiful readers about the apparent eccentricity of the word pedunculated oak. Here, it looks like a scholarly oak; over there, in the countryside, in the open air, it is quite simply, ladies, the oak that you meet every day, and which provides your babies with the acorns they make into little baskets and spoons.
Next to it are the oaks, the Robur, the strength! This is hard as steel. These trees take 350 years to grow to a diameter of 60 centimetres; but the grain is as tight as boxwood, as heavy as lead, and as strong as its name! It is the Ailier, the Moselle, and the Bitche regions that send us these remarkable samples that one must know how to wait for, and above all, to enjoy them, one must not be in a hurry.
We move on to the fir trees. The Vosges have sent us slices of 5 metres in circumference: there is nothing remarkable there; it is a nice average, that's all. But these slices were placed in such a way that their thin bark, about 1 centimetre thick, contrasted sharply with that of a larch slice whose bark is at least twenty times as thick. In this respect, let us note the singular influence that temperature and consequently exposure have on the thickness of the bark of trees. In short, this bark is their clothing, and they do as we do, putting on a heavy coat when it is cold and a canvas jacket, or a silk garment to face the heat of the Exhibition! On the northern side, from where the mountain winds are not very temperate, our larch has woven a bark 20 centimetres thick; but towards the south, a layer of 4 centimetres seemed sufficient. Isn't that strange? And isn't it good to study such large, intelligent larch logs?
Next door, we find maritime pines from the Landes region, who come to tell us that the famous sandy deserts of this country are nothing more than gasconnades, whereas we see trees there acquiring, in 100 years, 3 metres of circumference, which makes them regular and constant annual layers of 1 centimetre thick!... What a desert it is to have such trees vegetate! Let us now turn to the Haute-Savoie, - a recent annexed country. - which sends us spruce trees with their white and regular wood suitable for the soundboards of instruments. By the way, the annexation was a good thing, for larch and spruce were missing in large samples from our old forests; it was time for the new ones to bring them to us!
And cork? .... Ah, cork is a precious and too rare inhabitant of our southern forests. The centre of the woodland hall is devoted to a subterranean trophy which brings together known and unknown cork products, and contains, from the Gironde (Soustons), Corsica and Algeria, certain samples of this oak presenting a bark which is not very thick, perhaps for 13 years of growth (3 to 4 centimetres), especially if, as seems to be proven, it stops growing at this age, but of a remarkable fineness The cork of Corsica is very beautiful; a sample of primitive bark, which is useless - that's why it's called male bark in the country - coming from Albarello, is more than 15 centimetres thick. All the wood of these oaks is black and seems extremely hard.
As soon as we see that the corking of our future bottles of champagne is assured, we are allowed to say a few words about work of a different kind. Let's raise our heads!... again!... and first look at the beautiful forest map affixed to the wall, a little too high for eyes that are no longer fifteen years old and that, on a beautiful day of our blazing summer, are picking out sunburns.
Once the question of glasses has been answered, we would have a long and interesting study to make to realise the unequal distribution of wooded areas on the surface of our country. The immense forestry cavity whose indications we follow with our eyes is combined with the geological map of Élie de Beaumont, in order to bring out the relations which exist between the geological and mineralogical constitution of the soil and the distribution of the forests. The latter are abundant and dense on the N.-E. and S.-W. part of France, whereas they are rare and sparse on the rest of its surface. They can be seen following the red sandstone, the falhuns, the sandstones, and moving away from the purely granitic terrain.
This present distribution is not, however, absolute proof of the greater or lesser election of the woody population for this or that terrain, for the whole of Brittany, which, on the forest map, is devoid of large massifs, is, without question, one of the most wooded regions of France. But it is so in a way quite different from the eastern parts. Every hedge, every field bears an abundant woody population, remarkable for its growth and vigour, while few plots of land, except for a few small coppices, are covered with massive woods.
Champagne, with its chalk, is shown on the map, adorned with a green belt. The Landes, at the opposite end of the scale, shine with their abundant forestry production and form one of the most imposing massifs in our country. Why do our Alps, why do our Pyrenees present only sparse and indented massifs? whereas a dark curtain of greenery should indicate that God reads the great mountains to create there the deposit of the fuels which humanity needs to progress!... Ah, if men had known how to understand this early on! How much care and expense would be spared today for present and future generations!
Having paid a just tribute of praise to the efforts of the Forestry School which, through the care of its teachers and former students, has been able to put together this beautiful exhibition, we are happy to come to one of the most curious things in this exhibition. We are talking about a work that is not collective, but born of the efforts of a single person, the forestry herbarium of M. de Gayffier. It is the first time, - since a very unsuccessful attempt, in our opinion, at large and pretentious photographs of flowers, and in the trade, - that the new art has been seriously applied to a scientific purpose. And let us note that it is done by an amateur, not by a professional. Praise, then, to the forester of patience and merit who has not been afraid to face up to the trouble of the meticulous manipulations and preparations indispensable to render the details of the flowers, fruits, leaves and bearing of our forest species!
What care is needed to tackle such a work and bring it to a successful conclusion, no one knows but those who have done it, and we will be allowed to set ourselves up as judges, we who have not been afraid to apply, even for the first time, photography to the study of the marine and fluvial fishes of France, and who know today, by experience, what this work has cost us.
The photographic proofs of M. de Gayffier fill three enormous folio volumes, comprising 200 plates and giving, in addition to the entire botanical classification, as much as possible of the flower, the fruit, the leaves, all of which are of natural size, which, incidentally, increases the difficulties tenfold. We have also noticed the softness of the modelling and the non-exaggerated finesse of the details. Among the most remarkable plates, we must mention: the cider cone; the gable; the pine tree, branch; the small flowers of the rowan tree, etc., etc., etc. We would have to count them all! ....
After the herbarium, the living plants. It is M. de Vibraye who provides them for us. But there is a world of difference between those of M. de Gayffier and those of M. de Vibraye, for the former are those of our country and the latter are adopted children, acclimatised, from distant lands, still new regions.
In his domain of Cheverny (Loir-et-Cher), the skilful silviculturist has succeeded in making the most curious and rarest species of conifers bear fruit. We find unexpected riches at the Exhibition. Here is the fruit of the Araucaria with its sharp leaves; the Pinsapo; the Black Spruce of Canada, the red pine, of which we shall see magnificent specimens when we visit the exhibition in this country; the Tsuga-Canadensis from the Rocky Mountains; the Beaumier fir ; the Funeral Cypress from China; the reconticolus, sabiniand, pines of New Albion, rising to the summits of the eternal snows, but in the state of shrubs, and showing us here a cone with enormous, ungui-culated leaves, the size of a child's head; P. Coulteri, of California, etc., etc, etc., the latter with its elegant plumes of needles 40 centimetres long, hanging from cones the size and shape of an enormous pineapple.
We are forgetting some - and the best! - to arrive at the Exhibition of Dr Robert, the tireless enemy of the pests of border trees and fruit trees. It would be impossible for us to follow the learned doctor in the heap of samples, all curious, with which he has loaded his table. Friends of entomology and enemies of harmful insects will find ample material for their work. Here is the gallery of the Apiform Borer, which has penetrated the Swiss poplar and wreaked its havoc on the heart of the tree. Here we find the ravages of the coquette or zeuzere, in the sycamore, reaching the centre of the stem by a superficial gallery which tears the bark.
The curious part of the doctor's work is that in which he discovers the succession of pests, the latest of which take over the work of the first occupants to complete the damage; thus the bark beetles throw themselves, after the cossus beetles, into the foot of elms, the sooty ant likewise succeeds the cossus beetle in the trunk of a living chestnut tree, using the galleries of its predecessors to set up its shops there. Thus always and everywhere struggle, war, death! Struggle from animal to animal, from animal to plant, from plant to plant. Everywhere struggle, we say, death! It is the life of nature!... Everything is born only to die, and dies only to be reborn again, transformed by this great unknown force, whose seat we all seek when we study its manifestations!
I have only a small space left to note that on one of the tables, a few forestry works have been assembled, among which I would point out the excellent Guide du forestier, by M. B. de la Grye; the treatises on pruning, by the Count des Cars, the manuals on cubing by M. Goursaud, and the modest Study on Forest Pests, by yours truly.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée