In Geneva’s old town on the Promenade de la Treille lies a very important horse chestnut tree. It looks no different to any other horse chestnut tree, but unlike other trees this one has a role to play in Geneva’s history. This tree is the Official Horse Chestnut Tree of Geneva (le Marronnier Officiel).
How else would the first day of spring in Geneva for well over 200 years be recorded if it wasn’t for this tree?
The ‘eclosion’ (or the budding) of the tree’s first bud is recorded by the Sautier (meaning Clerk), a post which is currently held by Monsieur Laurent Koelliker who is the 71st person to hold this position.
Daily visits to check on the tree’s progress are regularly made, as the date can vary from any time between January and as late as April. It has even been recorded in December of the previous year, although this has not been too common.
The tree that you see today on the Promenade de la Treille is the fourth since observations began. It was planted in 2016 and comes from a seedling of its predecessor, which was so bent over, it had to be propped up with a pole. The very original tree was planted from 1818-1905, the second from 1905-1929 and the third from 1929 to 2015.
In 1808, Marc-Louis Rigaud-Martin began recording the date of the tree’s first bud. Ten years later (from 1818), a record of all further dates has been recorded on a parchment-roll and kept in a special place in Geneva’s State Council chamber.