Arboretum: Platanus x acerifolia, London Plane
March means it’s time for the Philadelphia Flower Show, and this year’s theme of Brilliant! spotlights all things British. So what better tree to pick for this month than Platanus x acerifolia, the London Plane.
This tree is a hybrid, the result of cross pollination between our native sycamore Platanus occidentalis and the Asian species Platanus orientalis that first happened over 300 years ago. Our native sycamore entranced a 17th century nurseryman busy in the colonies collecting new plant species to sell to English and European gardeners. He took Platanus occidentalis back home and grew it as an exotic species. The Asian species already was growing on London’s streets. The two easily hybridized and, in 1670, the result was named Platanus x acerifolia after its large maple-like (Acer) leaves
You will find the London Plane growing in many American as well as European cities today, because it is more resistant to pollution and the anthracnose fungus than our native tree. If the spring is particularly damp, the first flush of the tree’s leaves will be hit by the fungus and die, leaving a mess on the ground and a sickly looking tree when everything else around it is flush with spring color. The tree will eventually recover later in the season and send out a new set of leaves.
If you can tolerate that, and the shedding bark, fuzzy seed pods (they grow in pairs rather than singly as on our native tree) and large leaves that drop off in the fall, this is a tough tree perfect for our urban environment.