In 1789 London’s most famous trees were planted in Berkeley Square, now these listed arboreal delights are threatened by Europe; we might have opted to leave but diseases know of no borders. The ubiquitous tree named after our city, the London plane is threatened with extinction, and with its loss it would have a profound effect on London, as at present the London plane accounts for over half of the capital’s trees.
[I]t was discovered in the mid-17th century by John Tradescant the younger in his nursery at Vauxhall called the Art. Probably a hybrid between the American sycamore and the oriental place both of which had found their way into the Art.
Planted extensively in the 19th century it proved to be the perfect choice for polluted Victorian London. The bark breaks away in large flakes giving it its distinctive mottled trunk, and in so doing taking away any pollutants. Grime also washes off its otter-like sleek leaves and although it can grow to over 100ft it has a remarkable small root system and unlikely to case subsidence in neighbouring buildings.
The culprits of the tree’s demise are actually Americans, curiously the place the species originated. In World War II Americans brought munitions boxes into Italy which had been made from infected North American plane trees.
Spreading northwards ceratocystis platani has invaded trees which have a small scratch or cut and so far have contaminated specimens in Italy, Switzerland, Greece and Germany. In France 42,000 plane trees lining the Canal du Midi a canal side vista which runs for 150 miles are slowly having to be felled.
It’s only a matter of time when our trees – originated in American -are killed by a virus brought by the Yaks.
If this happens London denuded of these magnificent specimens will be a very different city.
Picture: Berkeley Square, Mayfair: The square had two of its trees removed by Westminster City Council in January 2012, they were thought to have been there since 1789. © Paul Farmer (CC BY-SA 2.0)