Saturday, 26 May 2012

London Plane Tree (26 MAY 2012)

Most plane trees in London suburbs are castrated.

I returned to this pollarded tree last weekend but there was hardly any new growth worth photographing. 

Below is one of the lucky ones, a favourite tree in my local park. Done with flowering already, starting to leaf out as spring draws to a close. The dappled shade provided by the pale green, young leaves is magical. I was quite envious as I saw a small child fling his arms out and spin in the shards of light because that's exactly what I felt like doing myself.

22MAY2012 - "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." - Greek proverb

In my last post about this plane tree at the end of winter, I mentioned that even though I'd passed by regularly since I can remember being alive, I had never seen any flowers, but then I hadn't paid it my full attention in the way I am now as its follower. Therefore, an extra visit was scheduled in April, being determined to capture the wind-pollinated "insignificant flowers" noted in wikipedia. I was upset to find that small seedheads had already set so I took photos of them instead. However, this article explains that the red fluff surrounding some of the immature seedheads is in fact female inflorescense.

21APR12 - two generations of seedheads

There were a greater quantity of larger, mature seedheads from last year still hanging off the tree.  It's impossible to snap the fibres of the seedhead stem; easy to detach the seeds, presumably because the seeds are supposed to be dispersed a distance away by the wind or birds rather than by the seedhead falling to the ground. Honouring the Greek proverb, some of them have been planted along with the mixture of annuals in my "last resort" seedtray.

Previously, a commenter asked if I knew how old this tree is. Even though the park accommodates several old trees, I can't find them documented on the internet. However during my research, I discovered that Berkeley Square in central London is home to 31 plane trees, all of which are at least 200 years old. Of course I had to go and check for comparison, and as the rain finally stopped this week making way for a heatwave, I decided to go on an expedition after work.

The closest underground train station is opposite Green Park. As I alighted I was confronted by some magnificent plane trees trying to burst through the park fence - surely there couldn't be trees more impressive ?  Fuelled by this thought, I almost ran to Berkeley Square, dodging taxis and bumping into commuters who were rushing to get home.

London plane trees in Green Park                              ... & Berkeley Square                     23MAY2012

Approaching, half-filled with anticipation and half-prepared for an anti-climax .... I was not disappointed.

Two of the 31 London Plane trees in Berkeley Square

The articles on the internet focus on one tree in particular which was planted in 1789 and has a circumference of over 6 foot. The London Tree Officers Association valued it at £750,000, the price of a flat in its locality or two small houses in the suburbs, using an equation which takes into account its size, age and the population in the surrounding area. The Capital Asset Value for Amenity Trees system was developed to encourage people to view trees in a more positive way, as possibly adding value to their properties, and to stop trees being unfairly blamed for damage to buildings leading to unecessarily cullings. In London boroughs where the CAVAT system is implemented, insurers need to prove that trees have caused subsidence etc. before destroying them.

Britain's most valuable tree ?   It has a circumference of over 6 foot and is 223 years old   - Berkeley Square

If trunk circumference is a reliable gauge of age, with the help of the small dog, squirrel and birds to scale the photos below, it might be estimated that the tree I'm following is much less than two hundred years old. Since identifying this plane tree, I keep spotting them : another tree in the park, away from the path where I'd never ventured before, seems older than the incumbent of Berkeley Square.

my favourite tree up till now  ...                    and another in the local park                              most valuable tree in Berkeley Square

You may think that I've changed my mind about my favourite tree, but I'm certainly not as fickle as that !

I plan to continue observing this tree through the seasons and joining in with Donna Abel's Seasonal Celebrations meme and the tree followers at Lucy@looseandleafy.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for


Alberto said...

I pictured you rushing to the park to see the trees like Bruce Willis in 'Die Hard' and I laughed! :)
It's very interesting to follow the latest evolution of a tree through your blog and I like all the information you provide about it. Evaluating a tree like a flat sounds rather odd to me but yet useful it this could save some trees! (Properties prices are really crazy in London by the way!)

Diana Studer said...

but you would only see those flowers, once you knew exactly what you were looking for. Pollarded trees hurt my feelings, but the proper trees are 'spinning in shards of light' with their fresh leaves.

Donna said...

They really are magnificent trees, the same as our American Sycamores. I am in awe each time I see a mature and old specimen. You have such a great way of posting, humor and cool facts. And your photos are always from interesting perspectives too.

Mark and Gaz said...

Their resilience to pollution (or efficiency in filtering out pollutants) makes them invaluable trees for the city of London. Not to mention they are handsome trees. £750,000 for a tree, wow!

HolleyGarden said...

I think if more people were aware of a tree's life span, they would have much more respect of any tree. Amazing that this tree is so old. Oh, the changes it has seen!

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

Wonderful...I love old trees and these have such great character....How exciting to find that tree over 200 yrs old and 6 ft in oh my...I will be starting the next Seasonal Celebrations June 1st...

Laura Bloomsbury said...

That was news to me - the valuation of trees instead of just the insurance damage estimates. Maybe this will stop contractors castrating them out of season. I wonder if the BS trees value will decrease when the American Embassy moves south? Magnificence seems to come with age in the tree world and your Platanus is looking grand

Alistair said...

That is one helluva specimen in Berkeley Square b-a-g. Perhaps a few of them could be sold off to help with the economic crisis, wait till I get out my spade.

linniew said...

I think protecting trees and setting values on them is brilliant. I don't know Plane trees or sycamore either, but I love the craggy limbs you captured in your images, and the huge trunks and airy leaves. Yes a first rate tree and I'm glad you have spiritually adopted one of your own b-a-g.

Alistair said...

Hi b-a-g, Thanks for the constructive information you left me, I seem to be getting a lot of it at the moment. As you see I have been messing about with my site, wish I hadn't bothered now. Well anyway I have left a reply to your comment, something I always take satisfaction in doing. I wasn't all that happy with the text and I am glad you convinced me to do something about it. I have used wordpress standard text and made it bold. If you have time could you check it out for me to see if the print looks big enough to read comfortably.

Carolyn @ Carolyn's Shade Gardens said...

We have 15 huge London plane trees on our property many of which look to be as large as the trees in your post. It is dark now or I would measure the circumference, maybe tomorrow. Anyway there are phtos of the property in the later 1800s and the hillside is bare making the trees less than 150 years old. You can find tables that will help you estimate age with a combination of circuference and height measured with triangulation. A good experiment for an engineer :-).

Andrea said...

Hi b-a-g, i wonder why they are called plane trees! I always love big old trees, but i am not near anything very old here. Their trunks show the experiences they passed through time, and those seem to have gone through hard times. Somehow they look eerie in the dark, a nice scene for ghost stories. haha.

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

The lumpy bumpyness is fascinating. The bark is fantastic.

It's funny how we are familiar with certain phases of a tree's growth but not others. This year, I was aware for the first time of the bright red pom-pom flowers of what I think is a turkey oak near where I live. The same is true of creatures. I have come across two posts this morning with ladybird eggs on. Ladybird eggs . . . ! I'd never thought to wonder what ladybird eggs are like before - and now I'm on the lookout.

There's a wonderful sense of excitement in what you have written here. It's infectious - and a delight to read.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Wonderful post - and I especially loved your image, "...a small child fling his arms out and spin in the shards of light..." Every once in a while, I still will do that, but only when I'm alone in the country!

Stacy said...

Yours will be the first tree to have an international fan club, b-a-g. It was plenty magnificent in winter without leaves, let alone now. I enjoyed the age comparisons--next to the two knobbly giants you show, "your" tree does look like it's just now hitting its prime. The market value idea seems a little odd for something that cannot, in fact, be marketed, though I see what they're after and how it might be useful.


Masha said...

These trees are so stately and beautiful, thank you for the pictures. I hope you get to see some flowers on your favorite plane tree next year.

Karin / Southern Meadows said...

Such an interesting post! Those are really some grand trees. The CAVAT system is an interesting concept on the one hand and sad on the other, thinking that trees are not valued by so many people. Makes me think of the Dr. Seuss book The Lorax where people lived in a community without trees. When we lived in The Netherlands there was a tree that they castrated too. I always thought they looked so ugly. Maybe it is the equivalent to how may people prune crape myrtle trees here in the southern US. Our term is "crape murder".

b-a-g said...

Thanks Alberto - No-one's ever compared me to Bruce Willis before! It's true that house prices are crazy in London - I'll be paying for my house for the rest of my working life.

Thanks Diana & Masha - I didn't realise that the red fluff were the flowers. They are so tiny because these trees evolved before insect-pollinated plants.

Thanks Donna GWGT and Linnie - London plane tree and American Sycamore are cousins, the article that I linked to explains that you can tell the difference by counting the number of seedheads per stalk. The leaves are slightly different too.

Thanks Mark, Gaz & Andrea - I never really bothered to look at the street trees till this year. Now I can see plane trees everywhere, each one is recognisable and has its own personality. As Andrea points out, the name is a contradiction.

Thanks Holley & Donna GEV - As Laura comments, these trees age really well. They are prone to a fungal disease though, which I noticed on some trees in Berkeley Square.

Thanks Laura & Karin - I think the valuation equation is based on the number of people in the area who would potentially enjoy having the tree around. It's not clear how many London boroughs have implemented CAVAT.

Thanks a lot Alastair - I bet you wouldn't dig it up if this tree was planted in Aberdeen!

Thanks Carolyn - You're right, as an engineer I should be scaling my photos more accurately (rather than using small animals to set scales). I might try the method that you suggest and report out in my next post at the end of summer. I hope that you will write a post about your plane trees one day.

Thanks Lucy - it's a pleasure to join in with the other tree-followers.

Thanks GG & Welcome - I'm glad I'm not the only one!

Thanks Stacy - It was your question last time which got me thinking about how I could find out the tree's age, which finally led me to Berkeley Square.

Janet/Plantaliscious said...

I do so love seeing trees given the space to do their thing without being hacked to fit in the built landscape. The principal of forcing insurers to prove that trees are causing subsidence before they can be chopped down should surely be legally enforced nation wide.

colleen said...

What a marvellous post. London Plane trees are much underrated and this restores them to the rightful place. Personally I don't mind pollarded planes. Their amputated limbs look shocking for a while, but they do seem to come back in a more refined "urban" state. There are several very fine plane trees identified in the Great Trees of London book, as they should be!

Andrew said...

Good topic.
I agree totally that trees have enormous value that most do not understand.
But I find it sad that we live in a world that needs to convert the tree value into money terms to appreciate it.
Actually in money terms, any tree, no matter how large, only has a value of the cost of replacement, in this case I doubt very much that there is another tree of it's size available, so the value is equivalent to the next best offering and that is more likely to be in the £5/10,000 price range.

Surely, proper education is the best option, educate our young to fully understand and appreciate there living surroundings and they in turn will reward society with careful planning and maintenance of their 'green' inheritance in the future.

For the now, far greater penalties should be imposed for mature tree destruction (for whatever reason) and damage.

Carolyn ♥ said...

I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree... and the older the better for me. Just think of all those trees have observed in their lifetime!

debsgarden said...

I would be concerned that the pollarded tree will die without sufficient leaves to support itself. The lucky ones are magnificent!

b-a-g said...

Thanks Janet, Carolyn & Deb - I'm not totally against pollarding trees, it's necessary in an urban environment. It just doesn't seem right to cut them back before they've had a chance to flower.

Thanks & Welcome Colleen & Andrew - Anyone who visits Berkeley Square or Green Park would be totally in awe of plane trees. Even though they are irreplaceable, attaching price tags to them might be a way to communicate their importance to people who are not tree followers.

The Sage Butterfly said...

I like the idea of following the tree through the seasons. That will be a nice way of watching nature work its magic.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know if building new sub-basement flats
on a garden square does affect old plane trees ?
At Leinster Square, Bayswater, there are huge trees from about 1860. An application has been made to build a sub-basement directly at the square.
How far do the roots spread ?

b-a-g said...

I don't know the answer to your question but the London Parks and Gardens Trust may give advice :

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...