Plane trees of London

Platanus orientalis 'Hackney'

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Foliage and fruit

Foliage and fruit of 'Hackney'

This name is used here to describe a distinctive clone, mature specimens of which can be found at many places, mostly in inner London. This variety was described as Platanus orientalis 'Hackney Form' prior to 2009, on this website.

It is possible that this plant has been described previously under another name. In this article it is discussed whether this cultivar was described in the 19th century as a hybrid plane under the name 'Palmata'. If this name is correct, then the tree should be correctly called Platanus x acerifolia 'Palmata'.

This tree has many of the features of the oriental plane, and has been described as a form of this species before, by this website's author and by others. These features include the deeply lobed leaves and its production occasionally of up to five fruit balls on one stalk. However it seems to be sterile, and has other features that suggest that it might be one of the hybrid planes.

There is a certain concentration of these trees in Hackney and adjoining areas, hence the name. All these trees are of a size that would probably date them to the later nineteenth century or so. No young trees have been seen.


Tree - This form is a large tree but probably not as large at any given age as the London plane, as its growth seems to be somewhat slower than that of other planes. There is frequently a pronounced swelling of the trunk just above ground level. This might be due to a graft union.

Crown - The branches are sinuous or somewhat contorted. The branches remain stiff and on most trees show little tendency to weep or become pendulous as in the common London Plane. The crown may be somewhat sparse in foliage compared to the other forms. Leaves are held on the tree a little longer in autumn than in the other planes.

Bark - The bark always flakes, leaving an olive green surface dappled with a pale yellow colour. The flakes are usually of relatively small areas compared to other trees, and come off in thick corky slices, sometimes 5 to 10 mm thick, or even more on large trunks. Often shallow concave depressions can be seen in the trunk where small patches have come off previously. These can give the appearance of being cut out with a spoon.

Axillary buds - These are distinctly broader and more squat than most other planes, often ovoid. Typically they are around 7-9mm across and 8-10mm long, the largest terminal buds being up to 12mm x 13mm. The base of the petiole is markedly and abruptly enlarged into a bulbous shape in late summer to accommodate it. There is a blunt point to each bud. Some lower axillary buds approach a globular shape. In winter buds are a red-purple in contrast to the shoots which are olive-green.

Leaf shape - The outline of a typical leaf lobe is similar to that of many oriental planes, individual leaves being rather deeply lobed, with lobes significantly longer than broad. The depth of lobing varies, some leaves so deep lobed as to appear at first glance to be fully divided palmately, like a horse-chestnut (Aesculus) leaf. The leaf itself is about as long as broad. Lobes and teeth turn upwards on a stiff blade. The base of the central lobe is often distinctly narrowed. The deep lobing and crown shape (along with the leaf colour, described below) gives the tree a distinctive appearance, even from a distance.

Leaf colour - Leaves are a medium to dark green above, paler below. Trees in later summer have a grey-silver or grey-brown colour tinge, quite distinct from other planes, and can be recognised by the colour at a distance.

Shoots and young leaves - These are moderately downy. The shoots are thick compared to other types of plane.

Fruit - These are large or very large, 30 to 45 mm across, borne 2 to 5 on a stem, very freely borne. They mature and change colour to a fawn brown earlier than other forms. The fruit are so numerous that it is likely that the relatively slow growth of this tree is due to its concentration of resources on fruit production. Large fruits are not usual in the oriental plane, and so the tree may have been misidentified.

This variety makes a handsome tree in most cases. The winter crown is often rather stiff in appearance, compared with the other types. It may be rather more resistant to anthracnose than other varieties are.

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