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What is a Plane Tree?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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Plane tree, the common name of the genus Platanus, is a native of the northern hemisphere and the only member of the family Platanaceae. These types of trees are also referred to as planes or sycamores, particularly Platanus occidentalis of North America. The plane trees can grow to a height of 98 to 164 feet (30 to 50 m). In the wild, their natural habitats are riverbanks and wetlands. These trees can also survive droughts when cultivated, and a particular hybrid of the genus called London plane has demonstrated survivability in urban areas.

Individual leaves of plane trees are large with prominent veins. The outline of the leaves is lobed with acute points. Each leaf can measure up to 9 inches (23 cm) in length and 8 inches (20 cm) in width. The flowering branches bear from one to five flowers, though the most common number is three. Male and female flowers can be found on the same plant, but in separate clusters, which makes them monoecious.

The rectangular scales that make up the trees’ bark protect them from the polluted atmosphere of metropolitan areas. Even a slight rain shower can readily wash the dust off the smooth leaves. These characteristics help the large trees of this genus survive in cities.

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Timber gathered from plane trees have fine grains and a brown-yellow color. They have distinctive markings that made them a popular choice of material for carriages in past centuries. The markings on the wood and the hardness of the timber make them a popular choice of material for pianos. Sometimes the wood develops dark veins similar to that of walnut as they get older.

One plane tree commonly known as the huge American sycamore is a popular hardwood used to supply lumber materials for butcher’s blocks and furniture. In the western part of Asia and the Mediterranean, another popular species called the Oriental plane, scientifically known as P. orientalis, is widely used as wood pulp. Some plane trees, such as London planes, are planted for their ornamental shade in cities.

A plane tree is vulnerable to a fungal disease called plane anthracnose. The disease can result in defoliation for a few years and can cause the worst infections during the wet and cold spring weather. In the southern part of Europe, a wilt disease called ceratocystis fimbriata f. platani is a major problem. Another common disease that can affect a plane tree is powdery mildew, but it is not as destructive as the others.

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