They are everywhere in London: and of the city’s eight million or so trees, the plane accounts for more than any other species.
The plane is recognisable for its leaves and its peeling bark—a feature that may help it to slough off air pollution:
Almost all of them in London are originally a hybrid: a cross between Platanus orientalis and Platanus occidentalis: and that hybrid is now known as the London Plane, although the oldest known in the country seems to be the one in the garden of the Bishop’s Palace in Ely, which was planted around 1674.
But it does seem that the hybrid was discovered in London—in the garden of John Tradescant (1608-1662), the botanist and plant collector, whose house was in Lambeth: the two parent trees were nearby.
There are quite a number in our nearby city of Bath. An especially loved one is in the centre of Abbey Green, planted there during the reign of George III:
Whereas Pl. occidentalis is a native of North America, Pl. orientalis is a native of the Levant—the tree mentioned in Virgil and Horace, referred to sadly as sterilis and caelebs, because of its inability to support the vine, in spite of having similar leaves. They knew it was not a native of Italy, and Horace regrets its spread: he associated it with the gardens and estates of the rich (Odes II.15).
It was not a native tree, but Pliny the Elder (XII.3-5) makes it clear that it had been brought to Italy several hundred years before his time—imported, he says, for nothing but its shade. It adorned, he says, the walks in the gardens of Plato’s Academy, and, he admits,
commendatio arboris eius non alia maior est
quam soles aestate arcere, hieme admittere.