With its peeled, windswept sides, Mont Ventoux is a well-known landscape in the south of France and the Vaucluse department. The history and the presence of a vast cedar grove, located at the foot of the mountain, are less well known.
However, it is an exceptional heritage that we can discover on these slopes, once arid, which were the subject of a vast replanting operation in the heart of the 19th century.
“In the 19th century, Mont Ventoux was one of the massifs which benefited from the policy of restoring mountain land (commonly abbreviated as RTM, editor’s note) and which aimed to reforest the overexploited and heavily grazed land, on which were observed erosion problems, ”explains Olivier Delaprison, head of the Mont-Ventoux territorial unit, for the ONF.
A forester, previously stationed in North Africa, discovered the climatic conditions of Mont Ventoux and began to think about the species that could be replanted there.
Two species are selected for their potential good adaptation to the land: Austrian black pine and Atlas cedar. Both are resistant to drought, but also to the cold, which descends, in winter, on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.
Thousands of cones transported in wooden barrels
A large operation to collect cedar cones was then launched in the Algerian Atlas and carried out in the field by the army. Thousands of cones, housing seeds, are transported in large wooden barrels to Ventoux.
“When they arrived, the cones were spread directly in the snow and broke apart with the cold, dropping their seeds on the ground, without going through seedlings,” explains Olivier Delaprison. The chosen technique consuming a large number of seeds, many of which are pecked by birds, will subsequently be abandoned.
A “somewhat forgotten” cedar grove
“The cedar grove was then somewhat forgotten, for about forty years, because we did not know what this plantation would give, continues Olivier Delaprison. It takes about 40 years for a cedar to be able to fruit and give young plants, and the foresters had no certainty that the cedars, accustomed to the climate of the Atlas, would adapt here. “
At the turn of the 20th century, it was clear that the Mont-Ventoux cedar grove was able to adapt perfectly to the climate of these lands in the south of France. Seeing the good adaptation of the species, the foresters consolidate its establishment by continuing the plantations, with seedlings cultivated in nurseries.
The cedar grows also spread naturally, thanks to the strong dissemination of the seeds present in the cones, which travel easily by being carried by the winds. “The cedar grove naturally extended eastwards, pushed by the prevailing wind”, emphasizes Olivier Delaprison.
Anticipate future temperature rise
Almost 160 years after its plantation, the Mont-Ventoux cedar grove has today become the largest in Europe, with 1,400 hectares in area, including 400 hectares of historic forest, where the oldest trees planted in the 1860s, are still standing today.
For ONF agents, the challenge now is to anticipate the future rise in temperatures, over the next 50 years, to preserve the species: “With global warming, species will have to rise in altitude so as not to suffer from drought, explains Olivier Delaprison. We are therefore starting to create islands of dissemination, with young plants, which we install at a higher altitude, so that in 40 or 50 years, they can continue, in turn, to give seeds. “
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