Sycamore tree

The plane tree: its history

The common plane tree or “platano acerifolia” belongs to the platanaceae family, which includes a dozen species. The term plane tree derives from the Greek “platanos”, later borrowed from the Latin “platus”, which means “wide”: in fact the plane tree is very wide and this makes it perfect as a shade plant. In Europe it was already present during the Cretaceous period, then disappeared in the ice age, but reappeared soon after. It was already very popular at the time of the Greeks and Romans: they used it to shade the places where they practiced gymnastic exercises. It is one of the best known broad-leaved trees because it often adorns city avenues, squares, parks and gardens; the common plane tree, however, is actually the result of a cross between two other plane trees with different foliage: the western plane tree and the eastern plane tree. It is a centuries-old tree, with a life span ranging from 500 to – in exceptional cases – 2000 years. The plane tree of Hippocrates, in Kos, in the Dodecanese, is more than 2000 years old: it has a circumference of 14 meters in diameter and is made up of several trunks very worn by time.

The common plane tree

The common plane tree belongs to the group of broad-leaved trees and is a hybrid born from the crossing between the western plane tree (native to the United States of America) and the eastern plane tree (native to Asia Minor and the Balkans). It arrived in Italy towards the end of 1600. The common plane tree can reach a height of 30 meters and there are some that are even 1000 years old. The trunk is straight, with a yellowish-scaled bark. It has large deciduous leaves (they can measure up to 20 cm), leathery, slightly toothed, with three or seven lobes. Its shoots are covered with a brown fuzz that remains on the leaves for a while before disappearing into the air. The fruits are spherical and hairy and grow at the apex of the branches, solitary or in groups of 2 or 5: they ripen in autumn and disperse in the wind in spring. It has a rapid growth, especially when planted in deep, cool soil. It tolerates pruning very well but beware of wounds that can allow the development of a deadly fungus for the plant. It is a very resistant tree and does not require special care.

The western plane tree

The western plane tree is native to the United States and is distinguished by its leaves composed only of three lobes (rarely five), triangular in shape, wider than long and with sharp indentations. They also have the particularity of only turning yellow in autumn (which differentiates them from other species of plane trees). It is of easier culture than its cousin, the oriental plane tree. It will be enough for him to be planted in a deep hole, with a good soil for the garden and regular watering for the first period of growth. It loves a clayey soil mixed with sand, preferably neutral or alkaline (but it also bears a slightly acidic soil). According to the growth, it will be necessary to prune the secondary branches and those that disturb the harmonious development of its shape. It will not require any special attention thereafter. It can be planted alone, to enjoy its shade, or alongside other species of plane trees.

Sycamore tree: The eastern sycamore tree

The oriental sycamore tree is a beautiful ornamental plant. It is native to Southeast Europe and the Balkans. It is characterized by lobed palmate leaves, very jagged, with the upper page of a beautiful bright green and the lower one of a paler and slightly hairy green. The bark is gray with scales ranging from cream to pink. It is a more delicate species than the other plane trees and requires a good quality soil: clayey mixed with sand, not too drained and not too rich. It tolerates drought but only for short periods. In the garden it should be placed in a sunny place but sheltered from the wind. If the winters are severe, it should be protected with a non-woven fabric cover. Here, the Romans cultivated the oriental plane tree as early as 400 BC The small village of Corsham, in the south-east of England, until 1990 it housed one whose surface extended over a width of 200 meters. Furthermore, in the plant garden of Paris, it is still possible to admire an oriental plane tree that was personally planted by the French naturalist George Louis Leclerc de Buffon.

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