The history of the London plane is not very clear - but they are the most numerous tree in London! They go by many names such as Maple leaved plane or Hybrid plane. As far as we know the London plane tree is a hybrid between the Oriental plane and the American plane tree. There are quite a few in Exeter and they are excellent street trees as they can survive various stresses and pollutants of urban living. We have a few smallish ones dotted along Paris street and a few medium sized trees by the top of Fore street. They are also widely planted in parks and green spaces where they can grow to a very good size.
If left to grow to their natural size they can easily grow to 35m. However, in urban areas they are often pollarded which means heavily cutting back the aerial parts of the tree. Thankfully these trees are like super hero's and can deal with such heavy pruning - even if it is done badly. It was first discovered in the 17th century then widely planted across Britain in the 18th century. Another reason why they make such great street trees is that they very rarely drop their branches which is ideal in busy streets and roads.
The leaves are leathery and thick, with five triangular lobes
The reddish-brown buds are fairly big and have a slightly bent tip
The bark is unmistakable and looks a bit like army camouflage on the younger trees. As the tree matures the older bark comes off in large flakes. The colours are quite varied which adds beauty in the often grey and boring concrete surroundings. The leaves are quite large and look a bit like the leaves of Norway maple. They are quite leathery to the touch whereas Norway maple / Sycamore leaves are not.
The canopy is quite open and allows a good amount of light to the ground
The young female flowers are red and easier to spot than the male flowers which are green
The flowers are very unusual and often overlooked by passers by. During April the flowers are present and they are a mixture of green and red small spheres. The female flowers are the reddish ones are always grow near the end of the new shoots / twigs. The male flowers are a bit smaller and green in colour and hang from the older branches.. Due to the nature of how the flowers grow the London plane is monoecious. This means both the male and female flowers grow on the same tree but different parts. The female flowers are a lot easier to see as they are a deep red and slightly larger than the male flowers. Usually there will be more male than female flowers - but this can change from year to year - for unknown reasons!
The bark is a mixture of yellowish to grey and brown. When young looks very much like army camouflage
The fruit is a golf ball sized spiky sphere and the seeds are released during the winter
The female flowers soon lose their red colour and change to a more light brown colour. During late Autumn as the leaves begin to shed from the tree the developing fruit is much easier to see. They eventually become the size of golf balls and by this time they look quite spiky. During the winter they release the seeds via the aid of the wind. The seeds are quite light and fluffy.