The fight for the classification of a “sublime magnolia” hidden in Porto | trees

In the backyard of a building in Porto hides a century-old magnolia tree. Those who live there always felt that they had a “hidden treasure” — until, years later, they discovered that their intuition was correct. Now, several citizens have launched and signed a petition which asks that this magnolia tree in Porto be classified as a tree of national interest and that it be legally protected, “preventing its felling in the future”. But this classification, the signatories accuse, is being hampered by a family that owns the building where the magnolia is located.

“It is a precious and centenary specimen, perhaps the largest and oldest in the species M. denudata in the country, which is – far from public view – in the backyard of a building, which is why legal protection is urgently needed”, reads the text of the petition about this “sublime living being”, which has the signature of more than 500 people. The initiative of the proposal to the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) for this tree, “the most vulnerable magnolia in Porto”, to be considered of public interest would have been by the writer Afonso Reis Cabral.

In the 60s, two buildings were built on that land by the Couto Soares family, who have some elements that oppose the classification of the tree. To PÚBLICO, Manuela Couto Soares justifies that this option is due to the fact that the magnolia tree, which has been “in the care of this family since the mid-1930s”, does not run any risk. She also adds that there is not “great trust in the often erratic management of public bodies”, and that, for this reason, “the same family that has always preserved the tree did not see any need for it to be classified”.

the magnolia denudata from Rua de São Vicente in the flowering season

“A hidden treasure”

The dispute began in January last year, at a time when the tree is dressed in white. Afonso Reis Cabral wanted to open doors for anyone who wanted to contemplate that living being, for whom he always had “an enormous admiration”, the writer told PÚBLICO. “I grew up in the shade of that magnolia tree”, which is at the back of his parents’ house, on Rua de São Vicente, in Porto.

He decided to share the tree with the city. She wrote a chronicle, shared the invitation on social networks and, not counting such a large number of people, opened the door to what she says were “thousands of people throughout the day”. And thus, “the beauty of the tree was joined by the beauty of the people who wanted to contemplate it”. In the midst of so much affluence, she met biologists, specialists, landscape architects, botanists, and then realized that the tree she had always known was, in fact, special.

Open house at the time of magnolia flowering on January 29, 2022

It was then that, in March of last year, together with landowners and neighbors, Afonso Reis Cabral applied to the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) for the classification of the magnolia tree. He was later informed of the opposition of a family that owned some fractions, which claimed “mere inconvenience”. For Afonso Reis Cabral, it is “inexplicable”.

Afonso Eça de Queiroz Cabral, the writer’s father, opened the garage door for us to the back of his building. In the center of the courtyard, with a few cars around, the magnolia tree stands in all its splendour. By this time, the flowers have fallen and the canopy is filled with green leaves.

“We want to protect it for the future, when we are not here to do it”, tells us the owner and resident of the building. He doesn’t notice the “inconvenience” mentioned by the family that opposes the classification, adding that none of its members live there, being just owners.

Locals estimate that this tree is over 130 years old.

The “struggle” with the ICNF

This opposition would not be a problem for the proponent of the classification, because the law that approved the legal regime for the classification of trees of public interest (Law No. 53/2012) and the ordinance that regulates it (n.º 124/2014) “do not say anything about the opposition of the owners or co-owners regarding the possible classification of their groves”, reads in the email sent by an ICNF technician to Afonso Reis Cabral, which the writer made available to the PÚBLICO.

However, in order to “avoid possible legal proceedings” and so that the trees under classification do not become “a nuisance”, the institute has rejected classification requests only on the basis of a “negative pronouncement by one of the co-owners”, he added. the ICNF technician.

This Thursday, March 16, the ICNF guaranteed in a statement that the process is still ongoing and that “no decision has been taken”. The writer Afonso Reis Cabral considers this response to be “a kind of bureaucratic nonsense” and hopes “that the conclusion of all this will be for the ICNF to classify and protect the tree, despite the opposition of these owners”.

What’s so rare about this magnolia?

“The tree is not particularly rare because of the species”, explains to PÚBLICO Cláudia Fernandes, one of the signatories of the petition, who is also a professor at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto, in the department of Geosciences, Environment and Spatial Planning.

Porto, he says, has “several examples of magnolia denudata”, despite the fact that this is not the most common species of magnolia. What gives it this status is not the rarity of the species, but “a set of several attributes happening simultaneously”. Namely the size and the fact that it reached a large size without having been the target of intervention and for not having pruning marks, “which is very unusual in our cities”. Because of these aspects, this magnolia manages to “display what is its natural crown”, very balanced. “And this is rare.”

Furthermore, this magnolia tree has another unusual quality. Generally, these trees produce a few flowers that wither and give way to other flowers. But the magnolia tree on Rua de São Vicente “blooms very exuberantly and all at the same time”, adds the teacher.

In relation to this case, Cláudia Fernandes makes the note that “it is necessary to go a long way in educating society for the benefits of trees” and for it to understand “what are the advantages of this protection legislation”. An example is the fact that “the presence of such a tree in the backyard of a building is a factor in enhancing the value of the building, and of the apartments themselves”. If it weren’t for the importance of everything else, the beauty of the tree would be argument enough to protect it.

Text edited by Claudia Carvalho Silva

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