N London, we took to Platanus x hispanica so completely within the past 300-odd years that it became the capital’s eponymous tree. Quick-growing, potentially tall and stately, its virtues as a city tree are numerous, including the way it tolerates paving set close around its feet and is most unlikely to drop a branch on anyone’s head. It’s forgiving, too, being amenable to really hard pruning, the stumps of its far-reaching arms quickly refurnishing themselves in lush, green growth.
As well as gracing lengths of embankment, forming majestic park avenues and embellishing numerous urban squares with its charismatic presence and shade, another great asset has been the way it sheds not only the large, leathery leaves that help to clean up the atmosphere, but also its bark. We no longer have the famous ‘London particulars’ or ‘pea-soupers’ (Conan Doyle’s observed ‘dun-coloured veil’) of sulphurous smog, so prevalent when every building was warmed with coal fires, but the scaly-armoured plane found it could shake off its grimy bark, piece by piece, and continue to grow lustily in the midst of polluted urban life and traffic.
ILondon planes aren’t native, but are believed to be a natural hybrid of Platanus orientalis, the ‘oriental’ plane of South-eastern Europe and the Levant, and the American sycamore or buttonwood, Platanus occidentalis, its earliest record in Britain occurring in 1663.
Illustration by Bill Donohoe