Note­book

Lon­don plane

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Katy Bir­chall

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

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