First signs of the disease

The dreaded ash tree disease – Chalara ash dieback – which is wreaking havoc in northern Europe has reached France. The microscopic deadly fungus chalara fraxinia (chalarose) has been found on leaves of ash trees in the north-east of the country.

This really is a catastrophe for France. The ash (frêne) is the fifth most common tree in France, after oak (chêne), beech (hêtre), alder (charme) and sweet chestnut (châtaignier). (I’d never noticed there were so many circumflex accents ^ in tree names before.) Its effect on the landscape of France will be as devastating as that of Dutch elm disease back in the 1970s and 1980s.

The chalarose fungus attacks the leaves, and then the branches which turn grey. It gradually invades the whole tree and eventually impedes the sap from circulating. Young trees die quickest. Sadly there is currently no known remedy so all the Office national des forêts (another ^) can advise us to do is  not to plant any ash saplings.

Our farm, Les Fragnes, is almost certainly named after ash trees. Frâne is a common dialect term for ash, instead of frêne, and on the 1829 map of the area that I consulted a while back in the archives in Gueret (I’m ashamed to admit I still haven’t been back but it’s on the to-do list!) our large lake was labelled as ‘pêcherie du Frâne‘. We have some ash trees on our property and we will miss them sorely if they succumb to the disease.