If England’s national tree is the oak then certainly the London plane may lay claim to be the arborial icon of its capital city. The London plane is believed to have been “born” in the city itself in the 17th century, as a natural hybrid of the Oriental plane from South-east Europe and the Western plane or American sycamore. It owes its existence to London’s role as a global hub.
Now it represents more than half of the city’s trees. The London plane is ideally suited to life as a street tree. The distinctive mottled bark pattern, captured in my photograph from the garden of London’s Natural History Museum, indicates its resilience in the face of air pollution. Its ability to shed pieces of bark allow it to be rid of polluting toxins. Whilst the tree may grow to an inconvenient height (over 30m) it readily survives, indeed thrives on, pollarding. It does not require an extensive root system and is not fussy about soil type. It is said that no London plane tree has yet been known to die of natural causes.
The tree’s allegorical significance has been noted, among others, by Lia Leendertz writing in The Garden magazine (May 2016, p22): “..for the excellence that can spring from inner-city melting pots.” It is also a useful symbol of the importance of human influence on the natural world as we now experience it.
Some scientists have proposed that we have entered a new geological epoch in the history of the Earth. Known as the Anthropocene age, it represents the period in which human activity has become significant for the future of the planet as a whole. In the spirituality of an ecologically-conscious Christian faith humanity may be regarded as “co-creator” with God in the renewing of the Earth.