Friday Flora – Platanus x acerifolia, the London plane

This week I have seen all sorts of exciting plants arriving at Chelsea Flower Show by the lorry load. I was looking through my pictures and trying to decide which one to pick for today’s Friday Flora and vacillating terribly between proteas and phlox, pines and poppies.

Then I realised that it had to be another plant beginning with P. The plane.

During build-up you can see the plane trees lurking in the background, but once the show gardens are complete you hardly notice them

During build-up you can clearly see the plane trees looming in the background, but once the show gardens are complete you hardly notice them

Platanus  x acerifolia is a hybrid between P. orientalis and P. occidentalis. East meets West in a tree. Well, actually it seems that they may have met in Vauxhall Gardens in the 17th Century.

I think this tree is the tree that does most to keep London green and shady; you see it everywhere in our capital city, and when you arrive at Sloane Square tube station and walk to the Chelsea showground you can see how fine it looks against the handsome red brick mansion terraces. At the showground a towering avenue of London planes shades the rows of trade stands and provides homes for the madly squawking green parakeets which you can hear clearly when you watch the TV coverage.

Mansions and plane trees on the route to Chelsea Flower Show

Mansions and plane trees on the route to Chelsea Flower Show

The trees are long-lived, there are many 100 years old and more lining the streets of London. Being strong, tolerant of pollarding, pruning, pollution and compaction they are the perfect street tree. Their picturesquely peeling bark helps to keep them looking dappled and fresh (and helps to clear the build up of pollutants from their trunks), their foliage makes London bearable in the summer, and then they have entertaining dangly pompoms of seeds. They are absolutely marvelous, except for one thing. Nasty little hairs.

Nasty little hairs (or trichomes) drop from the maturing leaves and from the disintegrating male flowers and get right up your proverbial and literal nose. Just when the hairiness is peaking there are more noses than usual to receive it as horticultural workers and then visitors by the thousand flock to Chelsea Flower Show.

Lots of people blame the pollen, but it isn’t just the hay fever-prone who suffer, almost everyone seems to get the Chelsea Cough while working or lurking under those trees and you can see the little hairs everywhere, often floating on the surface of newly-created water features in the show gardens.

They get right up your nose. And all over everything else.

They get right up your nose. And all over everything else.

Beautiful plane trees at the Chelsea showground

Beautiful plane trees at the Chelsea showground

When the weather is dry even the poshest visitors are sneezing extravagantly and blowing their suddenly snotty noses and we are all brought down to the same level by the pesky plane trees.

I still think, however, that these rows of elegant giants are one of the best things about London, and I forgive them, even though just writing about them is making my nose tickle.

Has anyone got a tissue?


Categories: FridayFlora, RHS Chelsea Flower Show, TreesTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. A handkerchief, surely? I hadn’t realised planes were so troublesome. I fear that now you’ve mentioned it I will develop the sniffles at Chelsea. I did laugh this week walking home up Highgate Hill when I mistook a squashed plane seed pod for a hedgehog! In my defence it was a bit dark.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One word: Kerteeshoo! First encountered those tiny airborn hairs as a gardener years ago, in one of Vancouver’s oldest, most venerable neighbourhoods. Street was lined with lovely towering London Planes, and as we cleaned up the leaves, I increasingly found myself coughing. First a little, then to that ‘wonder if they have TB?’ stage. Charming. Anyway, they certiainly are tough, and, as you say, a great leveler of humanity. Hope you’ll share some more of your photos and observations of Chelsea…#vicariousattendee ; )


  3. I always get a sore throat and tickly cough at Chelsea. Never realised it was the trees that caused it until you posted this piece. I have been working under some at a client’s garden this week and resorted to pulling my jumper up around my nose. Not a good look, when the clients returned home 🙂


  4. When I studied at UBC in Vancouver I was taught never to plant Planes close to schools or playgrounds for this very reason, but it seems like advice heard by very few… But, like you say, it’s such a great tree for city planting! I was in Paris over the weekend, and coughed so much walking under the Planes that I had my husband seriously worried – luckily this was never a problem I had working as a gardener in London!


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