Plane trees of London

Platanus occidentalis

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Leaf - occidental plane

This species is rarely seen in London or in Britain, and is only occasionally planted. Though it is winter hardy it is seriously affected by anthracnose, made worse by cold weather and frost damage in spring. Specimens tend to survive for a few years and die without making a tree. It has been regularly planted in Britain since the 16th century, generally without much success. There are accounts of it being grown in Britain as coppice specimens during the 19th century.

This tree's native range covers much of the eastern United States, where it forms the largest broadleaf tree, with trunks of massive girth. It is a fast growing tree of river valleys and damp places, of fairly coarse appearance and with relatively weak and easily broken wood. The common name for this tree is sycamore in the United States, while in Britain it is usually called American plane or Occidental plane.

It is not much grown even in its native range, the London plane being preferred as an ornamental. Its faults as an ornamental tree are various; weak wood and a susceptibility to anthracnose being among the main ones. It is sometimes planted for timber, and more recently has been planted as a biomass crop. The wood is used on a small scale for furniture and veneering.

Further accounts of the tree can be found at several sites on the web, mostly dealing with native plants of North America.

It is a parent of the hybrid London plane, and some forms of the London plane can be seen to be quite close to it. In particular, the clone or clones Platanus x acerifolia 'Pyramidalis' approaches it in leaf shape and the number of fruits.

Young trees have been seen planted out at Kew Gardens at times, but usually die young. Currently (in 2011) there is at least one young tree there, though thin-crowned and suffering somewhat from anthracnose. Other young trees can be found in other large British collections.

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3-July-2011