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Winds Topple 223-Year-Old Tree Planted For Marie Antoinette

It survived the French Revolution and a devastating 1999 storm, but strong winds have finally toppled a towering beech tree planted for Marie Antoinette more than two centuries ago at Versailles Palace.

The 82-foot high purple beech, one of the last trees in a hamlet dedicated to the former queen in the vast palace park, was felled Friday by an unusually fierce winter gust, the park's head gardener said.

"Imagine how an old tree in Versailles is vulnerable to the wind," gardener Alain Baraton told AP Television News on Tuesday. "That was all it took to cause the tree to fall and crash."

At least 21 people died in the winter storm that pounded France and Spain last week.

The 223-year-old tree's collapse, which also exhumed a jumble of roots, earth and grass, was the latest blow to the ex-queen's Versailles vegetation after her most cherished oak tree died in a 2003 heat wave.

The beech, a facus sylvatica purpura, featured its own plaque showing that it was planted in 1786. A decade ago, it had been damaged but survived an even more destructive storm that knocked down thousands of trees at Versailles.

Following that tempest, the beech's roots had grown moldy and shrunk so much that they could no longer counterbalance the weight of its 72-feet span of branches, Baraton said.

The beech will get an unceremonious finish: It will be cut up and sold to paper makers, he said.