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France: Mystery and Legends of the Faux de Verzy

Updated: Mar 6

Enigmatic, bizarre, curious, legendary... These are some of the adjectives that come to mind when discovering the famous forest of the Faux de Verzy. Located near Reims, in the Marne department, these twisted beech trees have maintained scientific mystery and cultivated local legends for centuries. But what are they really?

France: Mystery and Legends of the Faux de Verzy

© O. Robert

The Faux de Verzy are a unique group of twisted beech trees (Fagus sylvatica var. tortuosa) located primarily in the forest of Verzy, near Reims, France. These trees exhibit a unique growth pattern: their branches grow in spirals and at unusual angles, giving them a distinctly twisted and contorted appearance.

The Verzy natural park contains about 800 of these twisted beeches, spread across the 30 hectares of the forest. Their lifespan exceeds 300 years, and they rarely grow taller than 5 meters.

History and Characteristics

The peculiarity of these beeches lies in their genetic mutation. This mutation affects the way branches and trunks develop, resulting in spiral and contorted growth. This aspect has intrigued scientists for centuries. While these trees are found elsewhere in the world, it is in Verzy where they are the most numerous and best preserved. The Verzy forest is one of the few places in the world where such a concentration of twisted beeches can be observed.

The exact origin of these trees remains a mystery, but several theories exist. One hypothesis suggests that the twisted beeches are the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation. Another theory posits that these trees were altered by humans during the Middle Ages for aesthetic reasons or beliefs.

France: Mystery and Legends of the Faux de Verzy

© O. Robert

Legends and Folklore

As with any natural phenomenon that lacks rational or scientific explanations for its origins, the Faux de Verzy have greatly fed into local folklore. Although the legends surrounding the Faux are rich and fascinating, they are more in the realm of speculation than established proof.

Here are some hypotheses and other elements of folklore that have circulated.

1. Esoteric and Folkloric Legends: The twisted and strange shapes of the Faux de Verzy have fueled popular imagination. For example, some stories speak of witches or fairies using these trees for magical rituals or as portals to other worlds. Others suggest that the trees were meeting places for forest spirits.

A local legend also tells that the trees were twisted by the goddess of the hunt, Diana, to prevent hunters from hiding behind them. Another legend suggests that witches used these trees for their rituals, giving them their twisted shape.

2. Site in Antiquity: There is no concrete evidence indicating what was on the site of the Faux de Verzy in ancient times. However, the region around Reims has a rich history, with Gallic and Roman influences. The forests could have been considered sacred or have had spiritual significance for ancient peoples.

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3. Connection with the Druids: The connection to the druids is equally speculative and is also part of the folklore. Druids, known as religious figures in Celtic societies, had a deep connection with nature and particularly trees. Some stories suggest that the Faux de Verzy might have been a site of importance for the druids, possibly used for ceremonies or rituals.

4. The Abbey of Saint-Basle: Although the Faux de Verzy and the Abbey of Saint-Basle share geographical proximity, their historical connections are mainly based on local traditions and legends.

This proximity led to natural interactions between the monks of the abbey and the surrounding forest over the centuries. There are legends and oral traditions that link the abbey to the Faux de Verzy. For example, some stories tell of the abbey's monks using the forest for meditation and religious rituals.

In the past, abbeys like Saint-Basle played a significant role in managing local lands and natural resources. It's possible that the monks had a role in preserving or utilizing the Verzy forest, though specific details on this matter are scantily documented.

France: Mystery and Legends of the Faux de Verzy

© O. Robert

Remarkable Specimens

Among the Faux de Verzy, some specimens are particularly famous due to their unique shape, size, or history. Here are some of the most well-known specimens:

1. The Fau "Le Vieux Garçon" (The Old Boy): This specimen is one of the most emblematic of the forest. It is named for its isolated and unique shape, resembling a solitary silhouette.

2. The Fau "L'Abbeau": This beech is notable for its shape that evokes a natural shelter. Its low and spreading branches create a kind of vault or natural roof.

3. The Fau "La Chaise" (The Chair): This beech has a unique structure where the branches have formed a sort of natural seat or chair, which draws the attention of visitors.

4. The Fau "Le Fantôme" (The Ghost): Recognizable by its strange and ghostly silhouette, this specimen stands out for its mysterious appearance and almost supernatural demeanor.

5. The Fau "La Demoiselle" (The Lady): This tree is famous for the legend that tells of Jeanne d'Arc resting under its branches during her visit with Charles VII to the Abbey of Saint Basle.

France: Mystery and Legends of the Faux de Verzy

© O. Robert

Protection and Awareness

The preservation of the Faux de Verzy is ensured through several conservation and forest management measures, primarily under the auspices of the French National Office of Forests (ONF). Here are some of these measures.

1. Legal Protection: The forest of Verzy and its Faux have been protected as a natural site since 1932. The state-owned forest was classified as a biological reserve in 1981. This protection helps to prevent unregulated development and activities that could damage the trees or their habitat.

2. Forest Management: Foresters practice careful management to maintain a healthy environment for the Faux. This includes managing tree density, selective cutting to reduce competition for resources, and maintaining an ecological balance that promotes the health and growth of the Faux.

3. Research and Monitoring: Research is conducted to better understand the biology and ecology of the Faux de Verzy. Regular monitoring helps to identify tree health problems and to take preventive or corrective actions.

4. Public Awareness: Raising public awareness and education plays a key role in the preservation of these trees. Visitors are informed about the importance of not damaging the trees and respecting the trails and protected areas.

5. Breeding Programs: Efforts are made to reproduce the Faux de Verzy, either through natural seeding or assisted propagation methods, to ensure the long-term survival of these unique trees.

These combined efforts contribute to the preservation of the Faux de Verzy for future generations, while allowing the public to enjoy their unique beauty and ecological value.

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Traveling to the Verzy State Forest

1. Getting to Reims: The forest is located near Reims, in the Grand Est region of France. Reims is well-served by public transportation, including trains. From Paris, for example, you can take a TGV to Reims, a journey of about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

2. From Reims to Verzy: Once in Reims, you can reach Verzy by different means.

- By car: The Verzy forest is about a 20-30 minute drive from Reims.

- By bus: There are local bus services that connect Reims to Verzy. However, the services may be less frequent depending on the season. It's strongly advised to check the schedules according to the time of year.

3. In the Verzy Forest: Once you arrive in Verzy, the forest is easily accessible. There are hiking trails and information boards to help visitors explore the forest and locate the famous Faux.

It's always good to check the weather conditions before leaving, especially if you plan to hike or spend time in the forest. The area is vast, and it's easy to walk for several hours and stray far from the parking area without really realizing it.

France: Mystery and Legends of the Faux de Verzy

© O. Robert

The Final Word

These trees are not only famous for their beauty and uniqueness, but also for the way they stir the imagination of visitors. Each one has its own story and contributes to the legend and mystery surrounding the Faux de Verzy. The forest is a privileged place for photographers, naturalists, and anyone interested in unique natural phenomena.

These trees represent a living metaphor for resilience and uniqueness in nature. Their existence reminds us that diversity and strangeness are essential aspects of life, challenging our usual perceptions of normality. Their longevity and adaptation to changing environmental conditions symbolize perseverance in the face of the challenges of time.

Furthermore, human engagement in their preservation underscores our responsibility towards maintaining the natural balance and protecting biodiversity. The legends and myths surrounding these trees reflect our unceasing quest for understanding and connection with the natural world, a reminder that nature is not just a physical space but also a source of deep inspiration and philosophical reflection.

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