City Trees

March - April 2012

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TREE OF MERIT London Plane (Platanus x hispanica [P. x acerifolia]) Seedhead of the London plane of the Eurasian plane (P. orientalis) and buttonwood or the American sycamore (P. occidentalis) and that this occurred sometime around 1650, opinions differ as to where this took place. Some say it happened by accident in the UK; others that it occurred in Southern France or Spain. What is agreed, however, is that the first confirmed planting of the hybrid tree in the UK was in the 1680s, that some of these trees still exist and are in fine fettle, and that the London plane forms the tallest broadleaved tree in the UK. A Originally planted as a parkland tree, the urban attri- butes of the London plane soon became apparent. Its hybrid vigour meant that it established and grew quickly, it had the ability to thrive in the poor, rubble-filled 'soils' found beneath the paved areas of the city streets, its shiny leaves and exfoliating bark meant that it could cope with the increasing urban air pollution, and its rela- tively short season in leaf meant that it did not exclude late autumn/springtime sunlight from the streets. Thus it quickly became established as one of the most suc- cessful urban trees in the designed urbanism of indus- trial Britain, particularly in London (hence its common name). As the British style of urban design spread to other parts of Europe, the London plane traveled with it, and it can be found in many European towns and cities as a substantial urban tree. Many clones of London plane exist, although not many 38 Leaf of the London plane n element of controversy surrounds the London plane (Platanus x hispanica). Whilst it is generally agreed that it is a fertile hybrid London planes in Queen's Walk, London • All photos by Alan Simson of them have been officially named. Of those that have, 'Pyramidalis' was commonly planted in London in the latter part of the 19th century, whilst 'Augustine Henry' is probably the most superior form, and certainly achieves the greatest dimensions. During the latter part of the 20th century, it became fashionable to plant smaller tree species in the UK urban areas, particularly as street trees, in the mistaken belief that these would be more 'acceptable' to urban designers and managers, and other 'arboriphobes'. Fortunately, this trend is reversing, and the need to plant larger species is being realized. Once again, the urban attributes of the London plane are being re-discovered to cater for the demands of the 21st century city. For example, unlike some other fast-growing tree spe- cies, the London plane rarely naturalizes and its hybrid vigor means that it is generally a very healthy tree. It positively thrives in the urban heat islands of the mod- ern Britain town and very rarely drops branches or blows down. Very useful in these increasingly litigious times! In an increasingly urbanized Britain, where the street is becoming the main focus of social interaction, the role of urban forestry is becoming recognized as a meta- physic—a first principle—of modern urbanism, and the London plane is regaining its rightful place as one of main trees of choice in such urban areas. —Alan Simson, Reader in Landscape Architecture + Urban Forestry, Head of Research + Enterprise, Leeds School of Art, Architecture + Design, Leeds Metropolitan University City Trees

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