London Plane Tree: Sidewalk Art

Posted by on Dec 9, 2012 in photos, plant parts, Unmowed Blog | 0 comments

When you go to New York City, you expect to see great art. There are world-famous museums on every streetcorner, it seems, with paintings from all over the world.

Modern art can be a challenge, I admit it. Stuff by artists like Miro or Pollack or Kandinsky. Sometimes it just looks like, well, blobs. 0321-miroseveral_circles







Of all the great art I’ve seen in Manhattan, this is one of my 044

Beauty courtesy of a sidewalk artist: a London plane tree.

nyc 045One of the commonest street trees of New York City. It has this strange bark thing going on: the outer bark peels off to reveal the differently colored underlying layers of bark, in wild and weird patterns.

Platanus x acerifolia. What does the “x’” in the name stand for? London planes are hybrids, a cross (x, get it?) between two related species of trees, the American sycamore and the Oriental plane tree. Take a Platanus occidentalis and plant it next to a Platanus orientalis, and a whole new kind of tree results.

London plane trees decorate streets all over the world, from London to Paris to Barcelona to Hamburg to Manhattan. It’s the essential urban tree, a human creation, not a wild plant.

The hybridization makes for a very successful plant, ideal in its urban ecosystem. It’s more resistant to disease than the sycamore. It’s more cold-hardy than the oriental plane. And London planes have two qualities in particular that make them the perfect urbanites: they’re resistant to air pollution. And they can survive soil compaction, a highly useful quality when you have to deal with garbage trucks and millions, literally millions, of pedestrians pounding the pavement. Not to mention dogs…


Like cities, the London planes are diverse and beautiful in their diversity.

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