They are dressed in camo colours: splotches of tan and green and various shades of brown, and they are lined up along the sidewalks as we flash by in the cab. But no, fortunately, they are not armed. They are not even soldiers, although they have the correct upright posture. They are trees: plane trees, or London planes, our companionable urban friends.
I first encountered them in New York City, many years ago. They were not providing much shade in the prairies, and they were a new experience for me. They seem to like the cities, especially the large cosmopolitan ones, steeped in history.
For me, they have all of the evocative associations of travel, culture, intrigue and the infinite possibilities of those discoveries so precious to the young. London, of course, and Paris, Sydney, Shanghai. They are majestic, large and wonderful, with their bark splitting, flaking and pulling apart (exfoliating), revealing the history of their changes in colour: a very light tan nearest the inside and then progressively darker as the flakes age: greens and browns, ochres, and taupes, umbers and other reddish browns and all varieties of gray. The leaves are large and reminiscent of maples, and the name of the tree derives from a Greek word that means ‘broad’, describing them. They are characterized by a nice bole that branches at a convenient, people friendly height and then spreads broadly, providing their welcome shade and leafy environment. The mostly hidden, but telltale fruits are pendant-spiked balls (inflorescences), lychee-sized and coloured, sparsely allocated to the many limbs.[Read more…]