Plane trees of London

Platanus orientalis

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Foliage of oriental plane

Foliage of Kew's oldest oriental plane tree

The common name of this tree is Oriental plane. This tree is infrequent in London, with a few trees to be found in most localities, though they may need to be searched for. The species is variable and the trees cannot always be easily distinguished from the hybrid London plane. It is likely that some trees thought to be this species may actually be hybrids. Variation within the species can be seen in many aspects, including leaf shape, colour and texture of the leaf, and in the patterns of growth of the branches and crown. Some selected and distinct varieties are more commonly seen than the wild types.

The native range of Platanus orientalis extends from Asia Minor to Iran, possibly extending to the Iberian Peninsula in the west and Nepal in the east. It is widely planted as a large ornamental tree beyond its range. It is known that there is a lot of variation within the species, and some of the cultivated forms may be local subspecies. It is capable of reaching a height of 50m and more in the wild.

It is known as 'platano' and by variations of this name in Europe, as 'chenar' (from the Persian name) from Turkey to India, as 'dulb' in Arabic, and as 'buin' in Kashmir.

Subspecies and varieties described on this website.

Description

Tree - The oriental plane forms a medium sized or large tree. In general it is slower growing in England than the hybrid planes and forms a smaller tree at a comparable age. The tree shape is variable; it sometimes forms a single tall trunk, but more commonly it branches low above ground with many branches from this height and no clear leader.

Bark - This may flake in patches on older branches, leaving a dappled surface. On the oldest wood and trunk flaking may occur less frequently leaving a fissured broken bark surface. On some trees burrs can occur on the trunk and these may resemble tubers - see photograph.

Crown - Branches are often sinuous or contorted. Branch tips and shoots may be ascending, especially on upper branches. The widespread branches of many trees can however droop to ground level.

Shoot and young leaves - These are covered in down as in all planes, shed on mature tissue. Young shoots are yellow or yellow brown, while from the second year they tend to be greyish or grey-brown. Platanus orientalis and its varieties are little affected by anthracnose (unlike most other forms grown in London). The winter shoots of some forms can be dark in colour, often with dark buds as well.

Leaf shape - It commonly has 5 -7 palmate lobes, all distinctly longer than wide. Some forms have fairly rigid leaf blades with the lobe tips and teeth pointing upwards. The size of the leaf blade and the overall shape can vary. In general the blade is smaller than in the hybrid planes, up to 30cm long and wide.

Leaf colour - This is often a medium green above, paler below. Some forms have a matt upper surface, others are somewhat glossy. Leaves on some trees have a yellow-green colour, so that the tree appears golden. Often the leaf veins are not clearly visible in a pale colour as in the hybrid planes. In autumn the leaves of many trees change colour to a pale purple, the change generally starting at the tips of the lobes.

Axillary buds - Buds are variable in shape and colour. A typical shape is 12mm long by 7mm wide, blunt-pointed. Other forms are shorter and squat. They are often brownish, sometimes green or red, or dark purple brown.

Fruits - These are borne in groups of 2-6, commonly 4 on a stem, borne on short lateral growths. They can be up to 25 mm across. Usually borne close together on the stem, but on some forms they can be spread some distance apart.


Interbreeding between Platanus x acerifolia and Platanus orientalis likely to happen without human intervention. It is likely that there is a continuous gradation in cultivated plants in Europe from the hybrid plane to the true Oriental plane. In some areas in London there are roadside trees that may be the oriental plane, often mixed with the common planes.

Oriental plane trees in Britain can reach up to 30m or so high. It does not generally grow as large or as well in Britain as the London plane, and so is not as often planted.

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3-September-2009