Tree Profile London Plane

Platanus is a genus comprising a small number of tree species native to the Northern Hemisphere, commonly called Planes!

Members of the Platanus species are tall trees, reaching 30 to 50 meters in height. Tall and thin they tolerate severe weather conditions well meaning the hybrid London Plane has proved to be particularly useful for pollution control in urbanized conditions.

Often known in English simply as “Planes” these trees have become the quintessential tree of the London streets, however the London Plane isn’t native to the UK. Widely planted in urban environments these trees thrive in the towns and cities that others cannot cope with.

Platanus has a generic name of Plane and it is a broadleaf rather than a conifer thus it does lose its leaves in autumn because it is deciduous. The thick, leathery leaves generally have five triangular lobes, with each lobe having at least three teeth on each side.

Deep green in colour the flowering season of the London Plane is May-June, the fruit is golden-brown when ripe and the bark is olive greeny-grey with hand sized scaly plates which are often lost to reveal a creamy bark underneath.

London Planes can easily be confused with Maple Trees, however Maples have opposite leaves though both species tolerate a wide range of soils and conditions and the reason they can thrive in major (often polluted) cities is because they are able to withstand the compacted soil.The London Plane has a British conservation status of Common meaning the tree is not a threatened species though the pollen from the seeds and flower can be an irritant to some people. Remember, most London streets contain some of these tall, attractive trees but aren’t they just as common in other cities across the UK?

One of the easiest trees to identify, the London Plane has a camouflage pattern bark and hanging pom-pom fruits in winter; just take a look around to notice this resilient tree with its air of authority and magnificence like a giraffe overlooking our city streets.

Now so dominant in London the plane tree has become part of the urban landscape ever since it first appeared in the UK in the seventeenth-century when it was planted for ornamental reasons. 

All trees breathe through pores in the bark but none shed their bark quite like the London plane revealing the fresh wood beneath and meaning all the nastiness that attacks them is quickly removed keeping the trunk nice and healthy.

As well as this self-cleaning process, Platanus x hispanica proves how well-suited it is to the urban world by being resistant to drought, amenable to regular pruning and unbothered by impacted soil and these factors are all common features of life in London.

Take a look at the Grand Central Walk in Crystal Palace Park where the London Planes form a wonderful archway across the pathway; a pathway which originally lead up to Queen Victoria’s Great Exhibition!