Platanus x acerifolia (London Plane Tree)
Plant image

Not indigenous to Southern Africa

This tree is a hybrid between Platanus orientalis (Oriental plane) and Platanus occidentalis (American plane or American sycamore) and is grown extensively as a street and garden tree.

The ball of tiny flowers matures to a dry seed head (the 'itchy ball') that when broken up and brought into contact with the skin, causes severe itchiness.

Name & classification

Botanical name:
Platanus x acerifolia

Common names:
London Plane Tree, Itchy Ball Tree, Sycamore Plane, Buttonwood, Hybrid Plane (English); Londense Plataan, Grootplataan (Afrikaans)

Synonyms:
Platanus hybrida, Platanus x hispanica

Plant family:
Platanaceae
- The Platanaceae are a family of flowering plants belonging to the order Proteales. This family has been recognized by almost all taxonomists, and is sometimes called the "plane-tree family". The family consists of only a single extant genus Platanus, with seven accepted species of the more than 40 described. The plants are tall trees, native to temperate and subtropical regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The hybrid London plane is widely planted in cities worldwide.

Plant categories:
Trees

Pictures

Features

Leaf habit:
Deciduous

Height:
Normally 20 to 30 metres, sometimes 40 metres

Width:
10 to 20 metres

Plant shape:
The London plane is a large deciduous tree normally growing 20 to 30 metres but occasionally over 40 metres tall, with a trunk up to 3 metres or more in circumference.

Leaf description:
The leaves are thick and stiff-textured, broad, palmately lobed and they look superficially maple-like. The leaf blade is 10 to 20 cm long and 12 to 25 cm broad, with a petiole 3 to 10 cm long.

The young leaves in spring are coated with minute, fine, stiff hairs at first, but these wear off and by late summer the leaves are hairless or nearly so.

Flower description:
The flowers are borne in one to three (most often two) dense spherical inflorescences on a pendulous stem, with male and female flowers on separate stems.

Fruit description:
The fruit matures in about 6 months, to 2 to 3 cm diameter, and comprises a dense spherical cluster of achenes with numerous stiff hairs which aid wind dispersal. The cluster breaks up slowly over the winter to release the numerous 2 to 3 mm seeds.

Bark or stem description:
The bark is usually pale grey-green, smooth and exfoliating, or buff-brown and not exfoliating.

Habitat

Habitat:
Tolerant of most soil types in temperate areas.

Water requirements:
Moderate water requirement

Frost tolerance:
Hardy

Light conditions:
Sun

Other Characteristics

Drought resistant
Wind resistant
Disease resistant
Pest resistant

Edibility & Toxicity

We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is edible
We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is toxic, however we urge caution as this information may be incorrect.

Ecology

Other information

Uses & Cultural aspects:
The London plane is very tolerant of atmospheric pollution and root compaction, and for this reason it is a popular urban roadside tree. It is now extensively cultivated in most temperate latitudes as an ornamental and parkland tree, and is a commonly planted tree in cities throughout the temperate regions of the world. It is suited to larger gardens where its presence and majesty can be appreciated.

It is somewhat controversial as a street tree in South Africa due to its high water consumption when in foliage and because it releases large amounts of pollen and of course the 'itchy balls' can be an irritant for many if inhaled or blown into eyes in winter. It is also a high maintenance tree in respect of the autumn leaf drop.

Cultivation:
The London Plane has a greater degree of winter cold tolerance than Platanus orientalis, and is less susceptible to anthracnose disease than Platanus occidentalis. The tree has gained the Royal Horticultural Society of Great Britain's Award of Garden Merit.

The tree is fairly wind-resistant. However, it has a number of problems in urban use, most notably the short, stiff hairs shed by the young leaves and the dispersing seeds; these are an irritant if breathed in, and can exacerbate breathing difficulties for people with asthma. The large leaves can create a disposal problem in cities. These leaves are tough and sometimes can take more than one year to break down if they remain whole.

London planes are often pruned by a technique called pollarding. A pollarded tree has a drastically different appearance than an unpruned tree, being much shorter with stunted, club-like branches. Although pollarding requires frequent maintenance (the trees must usually be repruned every year), it creates a distinctive shape that is often sought after in plazas, main streets, and other urban areas.

Similar species:
It shares many visual similarities with Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore) from which it is derived, however, the two species are relatively easy to distinguish, considering the London plane is almost exclusively planted in urban habitats, while Platanus occidentalis is most commonly found growing in lowlands and alluvial soils along streams.

The leaf and flower characteristics are intermediate between the two parent species, the leaf being more deeply lobed than Platanus occidentalis but less so than Platanus orientalis, and the seed balls typically two per stem (one in Platanus occidentalis, 3-6 in Platanus orientalis). The hybrid is fertile, and seedlings are occasionally found near mature trees.

Notes:
The species was formed by hybridization in the 17th century after Platanus orientalis and Platanus occidentalis had been planted in proximity to one another. It is often claimed that the hybridization took place in Spain, but it could also have happened in Vauxhall Gardens in London where John Tradescant the Younger discovered the tree in the mid-17th century.

Do not use this tree if you or your family suffers from severe hayfever or similar allergies.

References:
Wikipedia

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