Although not native, Platanus x acerifolia is a common sight throughout the country, particularly in cities. It is a large, impressive tree often growing up to 30m in height. The most identifying feature is the grey bark which sheds in large plates leaving patches of pale green and creamy yellow fresh wood underneath. It does this as a response to pollution which can clog the pores of the bark.
Its leaves are large, thick and palmately lobed, closely resembling the leaves of a maple. When young, they are covered in thousands of fine hairs which fall off as the leaf grows. These hairs can sometimes be an irritant when carried by the wind, particularly to people with breathing difficulties. In Autumn, the foliage turns yellows and oranges before falling.
Flowers appear as small balls on long stems in Spring, maturing to produce the ‘pom-pom’ seed heads which can be seen on the bare branches in winter.
London plane is the ideal tree for urban locations for many reasons. It is tolerant of pollution, soil compaction, drought and heavy pruning, often being pollarded as shown overleaf.
Name: Platanus x acerifolia
Common Name: London Plane
Demands: Very tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions
Foliage: Large, leathery, maple like leaves. Green through summer and yellows / orange in autumn
Bark: Grey green bark which fall off in plates, to show paler wood beneath giving a camouflage effect.
Fruit: Bauble like seed heads remain on the bare stems through winter until dispersed by the wind.
London Plane ‘camouflage’ bark
Recent project: urban planting at London Kings Cross, 2011
Thought to be a hybrid of Platanus orientalis (Oriental Plane) and Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore) its origins are still a matter of debate, whether it occurred naturally in Britain or was introduce here from Spain. Regardless of this, it earns the name London Plane as it accounts for more than half of the trees planted in London.