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The London Plane

UK Garden Centre - Information about the London Plane tree

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Family Platanaceae
Platanus acerifolia

In spite of the fact that the Plane is an exotic of comparatively recent introduction, it seems in a fair way of being associated in the future with London. It has taken with a great kindness to London life, with all the drawbacks of smoke, fog, flagstones, and asphalt. It leaves get thickly coated with grime, which also turns its light-grey bark to blackish; but as the upper surface of the leaves is smooth and firm, a shower of rain washes them clean, and the rigid outer layer of bark is thrown off by the expansion of the softer bark beneath. This is not thrown off all at once, but in large and small flakes, which leave a smooth yellow patch behind, temporarily free from contamination. A large variety of trees has been tried from street-planting, but none has stood the trying conditions of London so well as the London Plane. (P. acerifolia), and therefore, before many years, the capital may well be the city of Planes.
The London Plane is believed to be of hybrid origin and to have first appeared about 1670 at Oxford. Some fine examples may be seen in London parks and squares. It is not known anywhere in the wild state.
The London Plane normally rises to a height of something between seventy and ninety feet, and the trunks attains a circumference of from nine to twelve feet; but there is a record of a Plane whose waist measured twenty-five feet! Many persons imagine because the leaves of the Plane resemble those of the Sycamore that the two are closely related; but a comparison of the flowers and fruit will show that this is not so. The catkins of the Plane take the form of balls, in which male or female flowers are pressed together; and the fruits, instead of being winged samaras, are the rough balls that so closely resemble an old-fashioned form of button, and the tree is known in some parts of the United States as the Button-wood.
The leaves are broad and five-lobed, and instead of being attached to the stem in pairs, as in the Sycamore, those of the Plane are alternate on opposite sides of the shoot. In summer no buds can be seen because they are enclosed in the swollen bases of the leaf-stalks.
The outline of the tree is not as regular as in most others, the leaves being gathered in heavy masses, with broad spaces between, rather than equally distributed over the head. This is due to the freedom with which the crooked arms are flung about.
The pale-brown wood is fine-grained, tough, and hard, and is extensively used by coach-builders, cabinet-makers, etc., but is not highly esteemed for other purposes to which timber is put in this country.


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