|Leaf Shape||Broad and indented with pointed teeth|
|Mature Height||60 to 100 feet|
|Best Habitat||Moist soil and partial to full sunlight
|Uses||Wood and medicine|
Don't let the Plane tree's numerous names confuse you. The large deciduous tree is part of a small genus called Platanus, and is often referred to as Plane, Sycamore, Buttonball or Whitewood.
Regardless of its many monikers, the tree has definite characteristics that make it a top pick among landscapers. In addition to being admired for its massive size, shade and beauty, the Plane tree's tolerance of pollution make it especially popular with city slickers looking to add some green around their urban dwellings.
Appearance of the Tree
Some Plane trees tower to 100 feet or more making them hard to miss amongst a forest of shorter specimens. The fast-growing tree has several distinguishing characteristics, including:
- Flowers: The tree's flowers form small mesh covered balls containing tiny seeds. The fuzzy, ball-like seed clusters hang from the tree's branches and typically measure between two and four centimeters in diameter. The male flowers are greenish-yellow while the females have a reddish-brown color.
- Fruit: Similar to the flowers, the Plane tree's fruit resemble small pompoms covered with tiny hairs. In the spring, the fruits break up and are carried away in the wind.
- Bark: Mature Plane trees sport a distinctive thick, grey, cracked bark. Often the bark will peel off in patches, exposing yellow scales underneath.
- Leaves: The tree's smooth and shiny broad leaves are indented and feature triangular lobes with pointed teeth.
While the Plane tree's large leaves are excellent for shading purposes, they are also apt to clog gutters and storm drains when they fall. In addition, Plane tree foliage that is left in piles on lawns during autumn can kill grass if not cleared in a timely manner.
Plane Tree Types
Plane trees are embraced for their ornamental value. The species is extremely popular in urban areas, though some varieties can also thrive in suburban settings.
The most popular types of Plane trees are:
- London Plane: The tree is a common sight throughout urban England. It is often seen lining city streets or acting as borders around parks. Its large canopy provides ample shade and its tolerance of difficult soil conditions allows it to thrive in various locations. The London Plane is a tough and adaptable specimen, though its large size and expansive root system can wreck havoc in sidewalks and sewer systems.
- American Plane: The American version of the Plane tree is often referred to as Sycamore, Buttonball or Whitewood. Some trees from this species have exceeded 160 feet tall, though most top off at around 100 feet. The tree is known for its dangly seed balls that remain on the tree's branches throughout the winter months. The seed cluster's bristly hairs are carried in the wind and can exacerbate allergies in some sufferers.
- Oriental Plane: This type of Plane tree is a bit shorter than its American counterpart. However, what make the Oriental plane even more distinct are the tree's bole (trunk). The unusually flaky trunk molts in most temperate latitudes, though this type of tree benefits more from warm summers.
Where the Plane Grows
The large trees grow abundantly in North America, Eastern Europe and Asia. They thrive in moist soil and need partial to full sunlight in order to prosper. Some Plane tree specimens can survive in sandy or clay-like soil, though most prefer wetter conditions.
Regardless of soil type, the tree's roots need room to expand. In addition, the tree's canopy stretches far and wide and should not be limited to small growing spaces peppered with power lines.
While the Plane tree is celebrated for its natural beauty, it also serves other purposes as well, including:
- Timber: The Plane tree's wood is moderately strong and is often used to construct outdoor furniture. The timber is also used for veneer.
- Food: The tree's sugary sap can be tapped and used as a topping on pancakes, bread and waffles.
- Medicine: In the Middle Ages, the leaves and bark from the Plane tree were heated and ingested to treat a range of internal ailments including liver problems and diarrhea.
- Dye: The roots and stems from the Oriental Plane have been used to create dyes to color fabric.
The tree is also used by landscapers to shade delicate plants and flowers. In addition, the Plane tree is also planted around the perimeter of properties to act as a wind barrier.
Millions of people the world over have traveled to London's iconic Hyde Park to view the lines of massive Plane trees. The London specimens form a perimeter along the south and eastern sides of the park and in Victoria Park in Bow. The natural barriers form informal avenues along the winding roads that run through the park.
The trees are also staples in cemeteries and along city streets where they offer a slice of serenity. The famous City of London Cemetery features a collection of Plane trees some of which have been there for more than 300 years.
Among the oldest Plane trees on the planet include the Osterley Park Oriental Plane. The tree reportedly dates back to 1755, though it's stunted due to extensive exposure to the elements. The Kew Gardens Oriental Plane is another noteworthy specimen dating back to the 1760s. Remarkably, the large tree still maintains a healthy canopy.
The Plane tree's number one enemy is anthracnose. The fungal disease causes the tree's leaves to become disfigured and sometimes shoots and twigs are killed. The infection is exacerbated by excessively damp weather. If not treated quickly, the Plane tree can die from anthracnose exposure.
Other diseases that affect the Plane tree include:
- Massaria: The fungus causes dieback and results in premature leaf drop.
- Powdery Mildew: The unsightly fungus affects new growth, especially leaves. The powdery white-grey mildew clings to leaves and can spread to flowers.
- Canker Stain: This wilt disease is related to Dutch Elm Disease and can cause premature leaf drop and possibly death in more serious cases.
In addition to these diseases, Plane trees are also susceptible to polluted soil. This is especially noteworthy for trees that line city streets and are exposed to road salt during the winter months. If the soil is tainted with salt, the tree may show signs of distress.
Plane trees are second to none when it comes to shade and attractiveness; however, most specimens don't come cheap. In order to get the most out of your Plane tree investment, consider the following growing tips:
- Young Plane trees favor damp soil. Be sure to water immature trees regularly until they have a chance to get established in their new home.
- Pruning is only necessary if you are trying to fit a Plane tree into limited available space.
- Most Plane tree types grow to extreme heights. Do not plant a Plane under power lines or near other structures that could be affected by their large size.
- The Plane tree's root system is expansive. Consequently, the tree should not be planted near sidewalks, driveways or sewer lines.
Finally, if you plan to cultivate Plane trees as wind barriers, keep in mind that extreme high winds and changes in humidity can cause older trees to shed their bark in large quantities.