Nature: This beautiful tree would struggle on our streets

PUBLISHED: 14:08 19 December 2017

Plane tree: The tree needs its branches carefully shaped for an urban context. Picture: Ideas_Studio

Plane tree: The tree needs its branches carefully shaped for an urban context. Picture: Ideas_Studio


Rex Hancy with more on the beautiful Oriental plane.. and why it’s a no-no for our streets.

The story goes that Xerxes, king of Persia, was so enamoured of a particular tree he ordered it to be plated with gold. The tree which we now know as the Oriental plane must have either shrugged off the unwelcome attention or just died. The story says that if you look up into the top of the tree and the underside of the branches you may still be rewarded with an occasional glimpse of gold. It is of course a pretty tale embroidered round the colourful effects of the flaking bark of this richly ornamental species.

The gardeners at Blickling Hall take great pleasure all year round in noting the sequence of colours in those ever-changing patterns. They also told me how the specimen featured in my note last month was lit as part of the light display during pre-Christmas festivities. The special weekend coincided with the first of the real frosts. Each twig, remaining seed case and every flake of bark was naturally edged by glistening frost far beyond the skills of human hands.

The Oriental plane is one of the parents of the hybrid London plane which has inherited the self-cleaning property of shedding large flakes of bark. Both parent and offspring are thereby eminently suitable for street and park planting in heavily polluted areas. Of the two, the oriental was preferred by the great “man of trees” a couple of generations ago, Alan Mitchell. Instead of the ubiquitous London plane, he wrote we could have had “canopies of delightful, airy, star-like leaves of pale green turning bronzed russet in autumn”. He did concede that the spreading, layering habit of the oriental could create severe problems for traffic but dismissed the problem. He always preferred trees to motor vehicles and people!

We do have to be practical, of course. The huge, low-spreading branches of an oriental plane would create mayhem in restricted areas. There are specimen oriental planes in certain ornamental gardens which were trimmed during their early years and so possess fine, clean upright boles. Others which were left to their own devices have spread outwards to such an extent their canopies are compared to the areas of multiple swimming pools or tennis courts.

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