Platanus orientalis (oriental plane)
Native to southeast Europe and southwest Asia, oriental plane is a long-lived tree with widely spreading branches and spiky round fruits.
About this species
A tree with widely spreading branches, maple-like leaves and flaky bark, oriental plane is also noted for its dangling, spiky round clusters of fruits. The Tree of Hippocrates, under which the ancient Greek physician taught medicine at Kos, is reputed to have been an oriental plane tree. The common or London plane (Platanus × hispanica) is allegedly a hybrid of P. orientalis and P. occidentalis (American plane) and is a popular ornamental in towns and cities outside the tropics due in part to its ability to withstand air pollution, drought and compacted soil.
Geography & Distribution
Oriental plane is native from southeast Europe (including Italy, Sicily, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Crete and possibly Turkey) to northern Iran. It is also widely cultivated in temperate regions.
Leaves and spiky fruits of oriental plane
Overview - A large, deciduous tree with a spreading crown, growing up to 30 m tall. Young branches are yellow-brown and hairy; older branches are hairless. The bark peels off from the trunk in large plates.
Leaves - Are deeply divided into 3, 5 or 7 lobes with coarsely toothed margins.
Flowers - Individual flowers are inconspicuous, but are borne in dense, spherical clusters hanging down on a long peduncle (stalk). Male flowers have stamens (pollen-bearing parts) that are much longer than the petals. Female flowers have long styles (female parts) that are ruffled at the tip.
Fruits - Fruiting branchlets usually bear 3 to 5 round, spiky clusters of fruits 2.0–2.5 cm in diameter.
Threats & Conservation
Although listed as of Least Concern (LC) on a global basis, according to IUCN Red List criteria, Platanus orientalis is considered to be endangered in parts of its range as a result of the expansion of agriculture and irrigation schemes leading to disruption of water courses.
Oriental plane has been cultivated widely in temperate areas on account of its attractive, flaky bark, widely spreading, shade-creating crown and maple-like leaves. It has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM). Culturally, the oriental plane has been an important component of Persian gardens, cultivated for shade and longevity, and also been planted in Hindu holy places.
Its wood has been used commercially for furniture (oriental plane veneer is sold as ‘lacewood’), barrels and crates. Native Americans have been said to have used infusions prepared from oriental plane (cultivated as an ornamental in North America) as a general remedy for all illnesses.
Kew's oriental plane
Oriental plane in front of Kew Palace at Kew Gardens
The oriental plane located next to the Orangery, in front of Kew Palace, is thought to have come from the Duke of Argyll’s neighbouring Whitton estate following his death in1762. It is believed that several trees were brought from the Argyll estate at Whitton to supplement the new arboretum being laid out at Kew. Argyll certainly had oriental planes, and the Kew plane is widely believed to have arrived in 1762 with the other Argyll trees.
This tree sits next to the place where the east wall of the White House (a mansion inhabited by Princess Augusta) once stood on the lawn in front of Kew Palace. This placement suggests that they thought the tree not fully hardy and in need of protection by the wall of the main house. There is a hint from previous research that this tree was planted by the previous owners of Kew (the Capell and Molyneux families), but without tree-dating or contemporary evidence it seems more plausible that the plant came from Whitton and was planted by the White House in 1762 as a young tree. Evidence from contemporary maps suggests this was one of three trees planted in a row.
Millennium Seed Bank: Saving seeds
The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
See Kew’s Seed Information Database for further information on Platanus orientalis seeds.
Kew's 'Old Lions'
Kew’s ‘Old Lions’ are some of the few remaining trees with the oldest actual known planting date of 1762. They comprise: Ginkgo biloba (maidenhair tree), Styphnolobium japonicum (pagoda tree)and Platanus orientalis (oriental plane) to the west of the Princess of Wales Conservatory; Robinia pseudoacacia (black locust) on the lawn to the front of the Orangery; and Zelkova carpinifolia (Caucasian elm) situated in the Herbarium paddock.
Some of these trees were brought from a neighbouring estate at Whitton which belonged to the Duke of Argyll (the uncle of Lord Bute, the botanical advisor to Princess Augusta). They became part of a new five acre arboretum, laid out by William Aiton, which sat next to the Orangery.
Now, 250 years after these trees were planted, Kew is celebrating the ‘Old Lions’, which can be seen in all their splendour, still growing in the Gardens.
This species at Kew
Pressed and dried specimens of Platanus orientalis are held in Kew’s Herbarium where they are available to researchers by appointment.
Specimens of the wood, bark, seeds and fruits of oriental plane, as well as a wooden dish made from it, are held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection in the Sir Joseph Banks Building, where they are available to researchers by appointment.
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