Plane trees of London

'Our Park Plane Trees'

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The following is the text of an article by an anonymous author 'Platanus', published in the Gardener's Chronicle, April 1866 (p. 316).


As I walk down the Park side of Piccadilly, and from the Marble Arch to Hyde Park Corner, I feel my eyes constantly attracted to those terribly tall ugly crooked Plane trees that have been planted there within a few years by some one not overburdened with tree knowledge. The standard Thorns planted in the parks a few years since are also so wretchedly crooked that it would require a sharp search into a neglected country nursery to find their equals; this does not seem good management. With regard to the Planes, they belong to that thin-leaved sort called in error the Occidental Plane; they are, in fact, of that species called Platanus acerifolia, and a most inferior variety of the race. The most beautiful of all Planes, next to the Platanus orientalis, is the Palmate Plane, a very straight-stemmed vigorous grower, with palmated leaves, nearly as deeply cut as those of the Oriental Plane, now very rare in the nurseries. This palmate Plane is a variety of the Maple-leaved Plane, and is called by cultivators Platanus acerifolia palmata. It is remarkable not only for its robust growth and hardy habit, but also by its young leaves and buds being covered by a thick fawn-coloured downy coat which protects them from spring frosts. Its leaves are also stout, so that they resist violent winds better than any other plane, and above all they remain on the trees a long time in the autumn, retaining their freshness. As far as I have yet seen, its bark does not scale off to that disagreeable extent seen in the common Plane trees now usually planted in our parks. It may be asked, why is not this sort planted? I cannot tell: it has been in this country several years, and was sent from the Sawbridgeworth nurseries some years ago to Kew. I can only suppose that the planting functionaries of the Government are, as usual with such gentlemen, slightly bound with red tape.

There is another most desirable variety of the Platanus acerifolia, viz., P. acerifolia pyramidalis, the Pyramidal Plane-tree. This does not form so large a tree as the Palmate Plane, but is very remarkable for its fastigiate growth, something in the way of the Lombardy Poplar, and for a Plane, is very compact in its habit. This sort has foliage of a very lively green, and retains it till very late in autumn. Its leaves are but slightly lobed, and it is altogether a very distinct, pretty tree.

There are many varieties of Platanus acerifolia, which for the most part have been raised from seed in France; in a bed of seedlings as many varieties may be found as in a bed of seedling narrow-leaved Elms, varying only in the form of their leaves, but I have as yet found none so distinct and promising as the two varieties I have endeavoured to describe.

It is much to be regretted that the most beautiful Plane - the Oriental (P. orientalis), is so rare; there are many large trees in th South of England, many in and about London, and particularly, in Surrey, there are some grand old trees in the grounds at Weston House, Albury. These trees bear seed abundantly, but it has hitherto failed to vegetate, requiring, probably, a warmer climate to ripen it; while grafts from these trees, owing probably to the close-grained nature of the shoots, have not succeeded. The old fashioned mode of propagation was by layers, but they were some years before they formed good trees. Seedlings of this fine Plane are often sold by nurserymen, but I have never yet found them the true kind; they have always proved to be seedlings of Platanus acerifolia, with leaves more deeply cut than the common sort, and lacking the elegant laciniated form and glossy bright green of the true species. Platanus.

The above article was published with the attribution 'Platanus.', as seen in the text above. The true author may have been Thomas Rivers of the Rivers family nursery of Sawbridgeworth (the third Thomas of this family), who had previously written a short article in the Gardeners Chronicle on similar subjects, discussing some of the same varieties of plane. It is possible that he sought some anonymity because of his criticism of the then recent tree plantings along Park Lane and Picadilly. These plantings would either have been street trees (presumably the highway authority of the time) or in the adjacent parkland of the Royal Parks. It is likely that the planting authorities were, or could have been, customers of his firm.

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