01 February 2013

Survivor of the 1838 flood - The horse-apple tree on the Margaret Island

Between March 6th and 18th, 1838, the Margaret island between Buda and Pest ceased to exist. For two weeks the whole island, a property of Archduke Joseph, the Palatine of Hungary was under water, while the moving ice-shield completely devastated it, on the 13th march. After the flood went down, replenishing works took place, clearing away almost all of the memories of the devastation. After the II. World War, the small, yellow palatine summer house was torn down, with the marble slab marking the high water mark of 1838. In the 1920s Gyula Krúdy, a known Hungarian writer described the “Seven chieftain sycamore tree”, which was broken in the icy flood, then grew 7 new branches. This tree has also disappeared since. Only one tree remained on the Margaret island, which still bear the marks of the flood, an old Horse-apple tree. 

In the XVIII. Century this island was a lush meadow according to the polyhistor Matthias Bel. Later, an owner, called Mayer attempted to plant grapes, just before the island became a property of the Hungarian palatines. It became soon a favorite residence of Archduke Joseph Anton. He built his simple one storey yellow-painted summer house next to the Franciscan church ruins. Besides his duties in politics, he was often seen with his gardener, Karl Tost.

“He spent his free time on this silent island, and because he was also an enthusiastic gardener, he soon turned this weed-grown place into a magnificent park. He could spent hours with a slash-hook and a saw in his hands, trimming and grafting trees, planting flowers.”

The meadow soon became a small fairy-garden in the middle of the Danube. The Schönbrunn park in Vienna was the model for the flower beds, orchards, alleys, and real ruins. Instead of the deforested acacia trees new saplings were brought from the Alcsút castle nursery garden. Ash, sycamore, poplar, conker, linden, pine and other exotic plants, such as the mentioned Horse-apple tree (Maclura pomifera) from North America were planted in the sandy island soil. This plant is also known as Osage-orange, hedge-apple, Bois d’arc, or Bodark. The yellow fruit of the spiny branches is unfit for human consumption. This one could be at least 180 years old, its trunk was deformed back in 1838, when the icy flood destroyed the Margaret Island park.

The Margaret island in 1838.
In 1838 the island’s sapling plantations had suffered greater damage. The older trees stood the ice pressure. The flood covered the mud pits with sediments, and like this leveled the bumpy surface. Some old ruins were washed out by the river flow, and a magnificent crown – possibly of king V. Stephen – was recovered by a servant. The left side of the island suffered more damage, many trees were torn-out due to the strong erosion. According to urban legends, Palatine Joseph was embittered seeing the devastation of his life-work. The restoration of the park, and the summer-house took for many years, and the island has slowly forgot the ice-flood. In 1876 and twenty years later the island was again under water, but damages were no measurable to 1838. Later the ground level was raised, and nowadays only the extreme high water threatens the facilities and wildlife.

Today this is the only memento of the 1838 flood, which destroyed Buda and Pest. If you have the chance it worth to visit this tree on the Margaret island, near the “Kisrét”. The exact position is: N 47 31,458' - E 19 2,874'.

One last request: please do not climb on the tree!

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