- Specie: London Plane (platanus × acerifolia)
- Location: Bath Spa, UK
Having spent the last week in the UK, it is hard not to be truly impressed with the London Plane (platanus x acerifolia). In the ‘old world’ this magnificent specie has claimed its domain, lining most streets in its namesake city, spreading its wide and robust crown over the sidewalks and gardens.
But in Bath Spa, a town just a short train ride from Paddington Station on the Great Western Railway, stand two extraordinary plane trees that are not only venerable and aged, but have become a part of the fabric of the town and its people. In fact, I think they helped built the town that Bath is today, much like the nearby Abby or even the roman baths that gave the town its name.
Bath is beautiful, as you’d expect from any self respecting town in the English countryside. There are historic buildings, cobblestone paths and quaint pubs (I really liked ‘the Boater’ for its 80s soundtrack and resident mascot – a spaniel).
Of course, there were plenty of trees, ranging from maples, tulip trees and horse chestnuts, to hollies and birches.
But none were as magnificent or as impactful as the two majestic plane trees that were not only massive and old, they physically defined the town.
I found the first of the two plane trees at one end of a narrow pedestrian street a stone’s throw from the town centre. I was awestrucked when I turned a corner and came face to face with a massive tree that occupied an entire square. It was like the town built itself around the tree, which returned to the townspeople a natural sanctuary, complete with shelter from the sun and rain.
It is hard to say which came first, the tree or the town, but this surely could not have happened without some forward thinking treelovers.
A similar plane tree occupies another square at the other end of town, which is home to a farmers market on the Sunday I was there.
The location of this individual is just down the street from the Jane Austin House, where you can have tea with Mr Darcy, who in a portrait on the wall looks suspiciously like Colin Firth.
In Bath, it’s also worth visiting the Parade Gardens, just a strolled from the Abby, where many tribute trees – a medler and at least one cherry – commemorate less idyllic times.
There is also the river side walk lined with maples and tulip trees (with their idiosyncratic leaves) along the Avon.
One entrance to the river walk is located on one end of the historic Pulteney Bridge, a few metres from the Boater, which is a perfect start (or end) to any walk.
Categories:International, parks and gardens, Street trees, tree walks, treelover
Why is it the ‘London’ plane? Is it named for London just because it is so popular there? It has obviously been around for a very long time, but why was it hybridized originally?
I’m no expert on how trees get their name or whether the specie is native to London, but from I’ve read, the London Plane is a specie that was widely planted in the UK during the industrial revolution, presumably starting with London, because of their hardiness and ability to grow in the dismal air conditions caused by coal fired steam engines that powered the factories. As such it was actually a kind of natural air filter!
As to the acerifolia reference, I am guessing that it has to do with the shape of its leaves, which closely resemble the maple leaf, as in “acer”, which denotes the genus covering maples.
Either way, the London Plane was clearly one of the first species to be cultivated for urban environments, which make it one of my favourites eventhough they are quite abundant and common.
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That is what is so funny about it being in London. Not only is it not native, but it is not a real species. It is a hybrid of an Asian species and a North American species. That is what the ‘X’ is for in Platanus X acerifolia. When I was in school, I was told that the North American species was the California sycamore, Platanus racemosa, but I doubt that now. I can not imagine why anyone would make such a hybrid, unless they really like both trees are were really trying to make something resilient to the pollution of London. That would make sense about the name though; if the tree was specifically developed for London. There certainly was no shortage of horticulturists there at that time.
Platanus X acerifolia means that it is the sycamore with leaves like those of a maple. (As I mentioned, the ‘X’ denotes preceding the species name indicates that it is a hybrid of two species.)
Acer platanoides refers to a maple that looks like a sycamore, referring to the Norway maple. I find this amusing because some English arborists refer to the London plane as a maple, and the Norway maple as a sycamore or plane tree.
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