Plane trees of London

Platanus x acerifolia 'Westminster'

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Foliage of 'Westminster'

Foliage and fruit in early autumn

The name 'Westminster' is used here to refer to a variety of plane found widely throughout the inner London area. Most of the trees are mature, their ages probably over a century. A few younger trees found at various places in London may be of this variety.

The tree is quite similar to the more widespread variety 'London'. However, it can usually be distinguished by its darker foliage, and its more persistent bark.

Description

Leaves - Compared to other planes, the foliage is medium to dark green, moderately glossy above. There are usually 5 lobes, typically cut to two-thirds of the way in. The lobes are always distinctly longer than broad. The central lobe often widens slightly from its base, then narrows to the point, producing a rhomboid shape. The outermost lobes are often much smaller than the others, so it may seem that the leaves are triple-lobed. The leaves remain green in autumn for longer than in other forms, and often drop off while green. In other varieties by contrast the leaves tend to become yellow or brown before dropping off.

Shoots and buds - These tend to be moderately thick, and the buds are round and squat, typically 7-9 mm long, 6-8 mm across. The colour is generally purple brown, flushed with green.

Flowers and fruit - These are borne in clusters of one to four. The fruits are larger and their stalks longer than on 'London'. The fruits are borne on short branch pedicels, often so short as to enclose the main pedicel.

Trunk and bark - The trunk is usually near cylindrical. The bark is smooth on younger trees, moderately rugged on the trunks of mature specimens, though the branches will usually continue to have flaking bark.

Crown - Typically this is high and erect. Branches are sinuous and inclined to be pendulous at tips. It is quite similar in its outline to the London Form, especially in having sinuous branches, but the crowns are often narrower.

This form is uncommon outside central and inner London. The size and locations of these trees suggests that they mostly date from 19th century plantings. In inner London parks the numbers may rival those of the form 'London'. Some of the older and massive trees by the Thames footpath from Richmond to Petersham may belong to this variety. There are some young trees in the capital that may belong to this clone, but it is not always easy to determine their variety exactly.

As a mature tree it is quite attractive and should be propagated, and planted more than it is now.


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24-August-2009