Platanus x acerifolia, known as the London Plane Tree, is a hybrid species that has been gracing the streets and parks of London and other British cities for centuries. This large, fast-growing tree offers great shade and is highly adaptable to urban conditions, making it a valuable feature in city landscapes.
The London Plane Tree can reach impressive heights of 30-35 metres, or even more, given sufficient time and space. Its robust structure and broad, spreading crown are prominent features that set it apart from other trees found in England. The tree has an expected lifespan of several hundred years, sometimes even surpassing 400 years, demonstrating its longevity.
The bark of the London Plane Tree is perhaps its most distinctive feature, differing significantly from other British trees. The outer bark peels away in large patches, revealing a lighter, cream-coloured inner bark. This exfoliation helps the tree to rid itself of pollutants, a feature that has helped it to thrive in urban environments.
The tree’s leaves resemble those of a maple, thus the species name “acerifolia”, and provide dense shade in summer. In late spring, the tree produces round, spiky seed balls that hang in pairs and remain on the tree across the winter, providing an interesting visual element.
From a garden design perspective, the London Plane Tree’s large size, distinctive bark, and broad canopy make it an excellent choice for larger landscapes where a significant shade tree or high canopy cover is desired. However, due to its large size and root spread, it may not be the best fit for small residential gardens.
Wildlife, particularly birds, benefit from the London Plane Tree’s presence. The tree’s dense foliage offers excellent nesting and roosting opportunities. Additionally, the seed balls, while not a primary food source, are eaten by some birds during the winter months.
One interesting fact about the London Plane Tree is its unknown origin. It’s a hybrid of the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) and the Oriental plane (Platanus orientalis), but it’s unclear when and where the first hybridisation occurred. Some believe it was a deliberate cross made in Spain or France in the 17th century, while others suggest it may have happened naturally.
In conclusion, the London Plane Tree (Platanus x acerifolia) stands as a testament to adaptability and endurance. Its resilience in urban environments, unique aesthetic qualities, and value to wildlife make it a noteworthy component of British city landscapes and larger garden designs.