Plane trees of London

Grotesque and misshapen trees

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Multiple misshapen trunks, Brunswick Square

Multiple misshapen trunks, Brunswick Square

There are some trees which are distinctive because of unusual or distorted trunks, with irregular and changing girths towards ground level. The image on the right is of one of the most distinctive, at Brunswick Square.

While these are extreme case, some varieties, especially including the Oriental plane, as well as some London plane or hybrid forms, often have somewhat irregularly shaped trunks. In these forms, there may be burrs, swellings, and other irregular protuberances on the trunks.

Some of the extreme cases shown here may be derived from the rather more common swollen bole. In this, a much swollen trunk rises from the ground, typically up to about 1.5m high, then narrows abruptly before breaking into the crown. This could perhaps be interpreted as a buttress. However, these boles often are merely barrel shaped, and do not show the other typical features of a buttress, such as roots developing into buttress-ridges. The trees all tend to have similar foliage, glossy and moderately deeply lobed. This is typical of some clones of the Oriental Plane, but it is unclear whether this is their original form, or is due to the same effects as those that cause the trunk distortion. The crowns of these trees tend to be relatively small, and not very vigorous.

Distorted form at Kennington Park

Tree in Kennington Park

There is a whole avenue of these at Barking Park, alongside the entrance roadway, on the southeastern boundary of the park. Other groups of these trees can be found at Kennington Park, Clapham Common, and in St. George's Fields / Gerald Mary Harmsworth Park (near the Imperial War Museum), and at Hall Place, in Bexley. There are some individual trees occur in some other places, including Holland Park, Hyde Park, and Kew Gardens. Other oriental planes elsewhere show what may be an early stage of the development of such trunks.

Oriental planes Tottenham Cemetery

Swollen trunks at Tottenham Cemetery

The photo on the right is of an oriental plane at Tottenham Cemetery. It shows some distortions on the trunk and lower branches, which may be a less severe form of the conditions shown above.

Irregular shapes also occur in some other varieties, including in the London Plane, for instance in P. 'Pyramidalis'. For 'Pyramidalis', some of this is due to bark thickening, especially below branch junctions. It also tends to form trunks that show some degree of fluting, though this does not run vertically down a trunk. By contrast, some other forms, especially P. Augustine Henry, tend to have near cylindrical trunks, between a short buttress near ground level and the crown.


Other distortions can sometimes be seen, such as the illustration below of a shield shaped development on a roadside plane tree in North London. This has been growing a few centimeters larger each year for several years.

Shield shaped distortion on roadside plane

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4-September-2009