This month the White Salmon Tree Board would like to highlight the deciduous London Plane Tree (platinus x acerifolia). This beautiful tree can be found in White Salmon’s Rheingarten Park and also lines the south side of Jewett Blvd. between Garfield and Main. The London Plane is a hybrid of the American sycamore and the Asian plane tree, likely cultivated in Western Europe in the 17th century. Planted along the streets of London during the black fog of the Industrial Revolution, it was noted for withstanding the grimy air quality and providing much needed shade and beauty. Over the years it’s become a popular street and park tree in urban settings across the U.S., but also serves well planted as hedgerows for farmers, or as a graceful specimen tree in a large garden.
The London Plane can grow to an impressive height of over 100 feet in height with branches extending out to 80 feet wide, growing at a rate of 13-24 inches per year. The sapling requires regular watering in its first year of planting, but once the root system is established, it’s known to be a highly enduring tree. The Arbor Day Foundation ranks the London Plane as one of the top 10 Drought Tolerant Shade Trees. It accepts most soil types, prefers full sun yet flourishes in partial shade, shows resistance to insects, parasites, and disease, thrives in hardiness zones 5-9a, and persists well through flooding and drought.
In April, small, red flower-like blossoms appear, followed by emerging green leaves. Their smooth leaves have pale undersides and develop 3-5 lobes. They closely resemble maple leaves and grow very large, up to 10” across. Descending beneath the leaves hang the fruit of the tree - several 1” round fuzz balls, which turn brown and litter the ground in Autumn along with the tree’s yellow-brown leaves.
London Planes are easily confused with their relation, the sycamore tree, due to the similarity of their tall straight trunks and peeling bark. The dappled silvery-brown exfoliates reveal the olive-green bark beneath and create an attractive camouflage pattern. Owners concerned for their young tree’s health may find the peeling bark troubling, but this is a normal effect that makes this tree so ideal for urban settings. The peeling process actually cleanses the tree of toxins and pollutants.
Benefiting wildlife, the high canopy of plane trees provide nesting sites for birds such as finches, woodpeckers, and warblers. Their seeds are enjoyed by squirrels and finches. Hummingbirds enjoy eating the dripping sap. Owls, other birds, and some mammals create homes in the tree’s cavities.
Elegant, easy to grow, hardy, and promoting wildlife, the London Plane is a valuable asset to our city trees and is a worthwhile consideration for residents and businesses looking for large, shade trees. Keep in mind that a plane tree needs room to grow and spread out.
And before planting, locate and consider your utility lines!