A deciduous tree of the largest size, in this country occasionally 80 to 100 ft high, and 14 to 20 ft in girth of trunk; in open situations it usually branches a few feet from the ground into several large spreading limbs; young shoots at first covered with pale brown hair-tufts, becoming glabrous later. Leaves palmate, 6 to 10 in. wide, somewhat less in length, with five large lobes, and usually a smaller one on each side at the base; the lobes, which are half to two-thirds the depth of the blade, and lance-shaped, have each one to three large teeth or minor lobes at the sides. When they first unfold, the leaves are covered with a thick whitish-brown felt composed of stellate hairs which later falls away, leaving the leaf glabrous except near the veins beneath, and glossy above; stalk 11⁄2 to 3 in. long. Fruit-balls two to six on each stalk, 1 in. wide, bristly. Achenes usually with hairs on the body as well as at the base, and conical and downy at the apex, which is tapered into the persistent style.
Native of Greece (including Crete) and of bordering parts of Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania, found along mountain watercourses; planted as a shade tree since ancient times, from Italy to Persia, and later to Kashmir. A great age is attributed to some large and decrepit trees. Hippocrates, the ‘Father of Medicine’, who lived in the 5 th century before Christ, is supposed to have taught under the great plane that still exists on the island of Cos. On the Bosporus near Buyukdere there is the plane of Godfrey de Bouillon, so called from the popular tradition that he and his knights camped near it in 1096 during the first crusade. This tree, estimated by de Candolle to be 2,000 years old, owes its huge girth to the fusion of several stems and is probably of no great age. It is not mentioned by the French botanist Tournefort, who visited the Levant in 1700-2. But compared to most deciduous trees, P. orientalis is certainly long-lived and, planted where its roots can reach underground water, attains majestic dimensions, both in the size of its crown and the girth of its trunk, which often exceeds 30 ft. Probably the two finest trees in Europe grow in the village of Trsteno on the Dalmatian coast a few miles north of Dubrovnik. In Kashmir, where the oriental plane is known by its Persian name – chenar – there are many fine trees around the Dal Lake, the oldest of which were probably planted in the time of Akbar the Great or his successor at the end of the 16th or early in the 17th century.
The date of the introduction of the oriental plane to Britain is usually given as ‘before 1548’ on the authority of William Turner, whose The Names of Herbes was published in that year. He mentions two ‘planes’, one at Morpeth in Northumberland, where he was born (c. 1510), the other at Barnwell Priory, which he visited while at Cambridge (1526-40). He no doubt saw a true oriental plane during his first exile (1540-7), part of which he spent in Italy. But in stating that the Morpeth and Barnwell trees were true planes he was relying on memory, for it is exceedingly doubtful whether he ever looked at either tree again, and certainly not before the publication of The Names of Herbes, which appeared only a short time after his return from his first exile. Later, in his Herball, he suggested that the oriental plane had been introduced by the monks, but he still knew of no examples save the two ‘planes’ he had seen in his youth. It is probable that the trees were really sycamore (called plane tree in Scotland) or Norway maple (‘plane’ in French). It seems more likely that the oriental plane was introduced towards the end of the 16th century, through the newly formed Levant Company.
The oriental plane is comparatively rare in gardens, having been ousted by the more rapidly growing London plane, which is not so picturesque nor so pleasing as an isolated lawn tree. From the common form of the London plane it is easily distinguished by its shorter, more rugged trunk, and its deeper, often doubly lobed leaves. Some forms of P. acerifolia have rather deeply cut leaves, but they are still very unlike those of the oriental plane, being relatively wider and with a broader central lobe.
A fine specimen of P. orientalis at Kew, near the Orangery and on the site of the famous 17th-century gardens of Sir Henry Capel of Kew House, measures 68 × 16 ft (1967). Other noteworthy specimens are: Woodstock Park, Kent, 89 × 251⁄2 ft at the base (1959); Woolbeding Rectory, Sussex, 40 × 121⁄2 ft (1972); Rycote Park, Oxon, 70 × 271⁄4 ft (1968); Exbury, Hants, 60 × 153⁄4 ft (1968); Corsham Court, Wilts, pl. c. 1760, 75 × 22 ft (1965); Melbury Park, Dorset, 50 × 193⁄4 ft (1971); Westonbirt, Glos., 82 × 101⁄4 ft (1972); Foxley, Heref., 85 × 141⁄2 ft (1967); Trelowarren, Cornwall, 75 × 131⁄2 ft (1966); Jesus College, Cambridge,pl. 1802, 90 × 17 ft (1972); Ely Cathedral, Cambs., Bishop’s Palace, 90 × 15 ft and 80 × 151⁄4 ft (1969).
Although several varieties of P. orientalis have been distinguished, it is doubtful if any merits recognition. The var. insularis A.DC., founded on specimens from Cyprus and Crete, is described as having the leaves divided to below the middle into narrowly lanceolate lobes. It is often regarded as representing the normal wild state of the species, and perhaps correctly so, though it seems to be the case that trees in Cyprus (which may not be genuinely wild) have their leaf-lobes rather narrower than is usual in Grecian trees. The var. liquidambarifolia (Spach) Jaennicke represents a minor variation in which the lobes of the leaves are entire or only sparsely toothed. Trees planted in Kashmir, at least those by the Dal Lake, have larger, less deeply divided leaves than is normal in wild P. orientalis.
A name that occurs frequently in the literature of the planes is P. cuneata Willd. (P. orientalis var. cuneata (Willd.) Loud., nom. illegit.). This was given by Willdenow in 1805 to a small shrubby tree growing in the Berlin Botanic Garden. He cited P. orientalis var. undulata Aiton as a synonym, which suggests that P. cuneata was the plane sold by some English nurseries as the ‘wave-leaved’ plane. Loudon describes it under the name P. orientalis var. cuneata, which, though widely used, is clearly illegitimate, since he cited the earlier P. orientalis var. undulata Ait. as a synonym (Arb. et. Frut Brit. (1838), Vol. IV, p. 2034). Loudon’s portrait of the tree growing in the garden of the Horticultural Society shows that the lobes of the leaves were irregularly reflexed – whence perhaps the popular name and Aiton’s botanical epithet.
Shrubby plants found apparently wild on the south-eastern slopes of the Caucasus were identified by Koch as P. cuneata Willd., which he considered to be a good species, though it seems more likely that they were naturalised plants stunted by dry conditions. It has also been stated, certainly in error, that P. cuneata is a native of N.W. India. This conclusion was apparently based on the behaviour of young plants at Kew, raised from Kashmir seed, which were stunted and bore cuneate leaves. The fact that the leaves of P. orientalis are always cuneate in the seedling stage suggests, however, that these plants had simply failed to develop beyond the juvenile stage. Professor Henry, in his paper on the planes referred to under P. acerifolia, took a different view, arguing that P. cuneata Willd. was a seedling of the London plane. It is true that some cultivated trees agreeing with Willdenow’s species in foliage and habit bear abnormal fruit-balls, with relatively few, often abortive achenes, and could well be of the origin suggested by Henry, but he offered no proof that the type of P. cuneata was abnormal in its fruits. Finally, it should be added that mature wild trees of P. orientalis may bear a juvenile type of leaf; on weak shoots there is a gradation from leaves with an attenuate base to those in which the base is truncate with a central wedge.
A few variants have arisen in Western Europe, some of which have been distributed commercially, though probably none is common. A tree at Kew, on the north side of Syon Vista, was received in the 1870s or 1880s as P. “nepalensis” and may be the same as the clone (?) that was known in the trade either by that name or as P. laciniata, and is said by Wesmael to have been put into commerce by the Belgian nurseryman L. de Bavay in 1847. The leaves on the Kew tree are up to 8 in. long, with elegantly tapered, deeply toothed lobes and a more or less cuneate base, but they really differ very little from those of wild trees. How this variant acquired the epithet nepalensis it is impossible to say; it certainly did not come from Nepal.
The status of‘Digitata’ is uncertain. The fruit-balls are abnormally small, barely 1⁄2 in. wide, and according to Henry the achenes are infertile, as in the trees he considered to be P. cuneata. It may therefore be a seedling of the London plane and not a variant of P. orientalis, as is usually supposed. The leaves are about 6 in. long and wide, five-lobed, truncate with a central wedge or truly cuneate, the lobes separated by wide sinuses and edged with large, lobulate teeth. According to Gordon, who described it in 1872, it had been put into commerce by Loddiges’ nurseries some thirty years earlier. No authentic example has so far been traced, but Henry considered that a tree in the University Botanic Garden, Cambridge, was the plane described by Gordon. Its foliage is shown in Gard. Cbron., Vol. 76 (1924), fig. 90. Another plane of uncertain status, growing in the same garden, was given botanical status by Henry as P. cantabrigensis (Gard. Chron., loc. cit., fig. 02 and 93). This too is quite possibly a seedling of the London plane.