London planetree: Bark, Leaves, Root System, Growth Rate Cultivars & Lifespan

Platanus × acerifolia, Platanus × hispanica, or hybrid plane, is a tree in the genus Platanus. It is often known by the synonym London plane or London planetree. It is a hybrid of Platanus orientalis ( Oriental plane) and Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore). It prefer U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8.

The exact origins of the London plane tree are shrouded in mystery, but it is believed to have occurred naturally in Spain before being introduced to England in the 17th century. One popular account suggests that the first London plane tree was discovered in the mid-17th century in the famous nursery garden of John Tradescant the Younger in Vauxhall, London. However, some sources argue that the tree might have been cultivated in England as early as the 16th century.

The London plane tree growth rate of about 36 inches per year means the tree can reach its maximum size of 75 to 100 feet tall with a spread of 60 feet to 75 feet in as little as 25 years. The tree’s large size, broad canopy has ability to provide shade anywhere it is grown.

The London plane is very tolerant of atmospheric pollution and root compaction, and for this reason it is a popular urban roadside tree. It was planted extensively in Victorian times to weather the pollution of London. It is now extensively cultivated in most temperate latitudes as an ornamental and parkland tree, and is a commonly planted tree in cities throughout the temperate regions of the world, in London and many other cities.

Characteristics and facts about London Planetree

  • Grows between 66 and 100 feet (20 to 30 meters) tall with a large, rounded crown up to 75 feet (22 meters) wide.
  • Has a growth rate of about 36 inches per year.
  • Tolerates partial sun, most soil types, urban pollution, and temperatures as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 degrees Celsius).
  • Has large, pointed leaves with toothed margins measuring up to 10 inches (25 cm) wide.
  • Feature Unique bark with flaky scales that shed to expose mottled patches of white, gray, and green.
  • Its Spherical flower heads measure about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter.
  • Its monoecious tree (has both male and female flowers on the same tree).
  • Leaves do not turn shades of red and orange in the fall.
  • Very resilience and tolerant of urban conditions, commonly grown in city streets and parks.
  • Some cultivars are resistant to diseases like anthracnose and frost cracking.
  • Can blanket the ground under it with dead leaves in winter, and may produce unwanted insects, although none are considered major pests.
  • Can live for about 80 years under favorable conditions.

Root System of London Plane Tree

The root system of the London plane tree is particularly notable for its ability to grow in a variety of soil types and conditions, including compacted soils often found in urban areas. However, this adaptability can lead to issues in cities, particularly with infrastructure. The roots of the London plane tree can grow quite large and have been known to cause damage to sidewalks, building foundations, and underground utilities. This is a common problem in urban landscapes where space is limited, and trees are planted in close proximity to buildings and other structures.

Efforts to mitigate the impact of London plane tree roots include removing damaged sidewalks and grinding down the roots before replacing the walkway. However, this approach can weaken the tree, making it potentially unstable and unsafe. Another approach is to expand the space around existing trees when possible. In some cases, particularly problematic trees may be removed and replaced with species that are shorter and have less extensive root systems.

Cultivars of London Plane Tree

Augustine HenryTall growing cultivar with very large, pale green leaves. Produces a strong leader and a cylindrical trunk.
BloodgoodOne of the first cultivars selected for anthracnose resistance. Rounded tree with deep green leaves turning poor yellow in fall. Tolerates heat, drought, and poor soil, but recently observed to be susceptible to ozone.
ColumbiaResistant to mildew and anthracnose. Features deeply lobed, dark green leaves.
LibertyU.S. National Arboretum introduction, pyramidal tree with vigorous growth. Shows good tolerance for mildew, anthracnose, heat, and drought.
Metzam (Metroshade)New introduction with strong growth and a pyramidal habit. Said to be disease resistant with lustrous green foliage initially tinged with reddish color.
MirkovecDwarf, shrubby habit with variegated lobed leaves having pink, cream, and bronze regions.
PyramidalisCommon in London, characterized by rich glossy green leaves and a tendency to produce straight branches.
SuttneriLeaves are variegated creamy white.
YarwoodHighly resistant to powdery mildew but highly susceptible to anthracnose. Poor structural integrity, being abandoned in California.

Difference between London Plane Tree and Sycamore

Female London sycamore trees develop fuzzy spherical fruiting bodies in pairs, while American sycamore trees develop single fruiting bodies, and London plane tree leaves have deeper sinuses (gaps) between the leaf lobes than American sycamore trees. Other than those differences, the two trees are hard to tell apart. In particular, both the American sycamore bark and the London plane tree bark peel away in irregular patches to reveal the much lighter inner bark.

The original preference for the London plane tree vs. sycamore tree for urban landscapes was based on the belief that the London plane tree was more resistant to urban pollutants. In addition, London plane trees are thought to be much more resistant to anthracnose than sycamores, but anthracnose resistance seems to depend on the variety of London plane tree. Both species are susceptible to canker, leaf spot and powdery mildew as well as borers, scale, Japanese beetles, caterpillars and mites.

London Plane Tree Leaves

Bark of London Plane Tree

London Plane Tree Fruits