This post was going to be about maples, but my head is tied up in knots trying to identify the many species of which I have taken pictures, so that will have to wait for another day. Instead, this will be about what we in Britain call the plane and the sycamore.
The Latin names are confusing. The plane I refer to is Platanus x acerifolia, which suggests it has maple-like leaves, while the sycamore is Acer pseudoplatanus, meaning it is plane-like. To make matters worse, while our European sycamore is officially a maple (Acer), in the USA there are several so-called sycamore species that are planes (Platanus). See here.
Anyway, it was a rare blue-sky day, so I went into Cardiff’s Bute Park, next to the castle, to investigate some red berries I had seen over the wall. That’s probably material for another post!
I was SO impressed by what I thought were a couple of huge old maples. Only when I returned home did I kick myself and realise they were “London planes”, as many people call them.
All around were the autumn leaves I had been dreaming of – the sort you can crunch through like a kid, kicking them up in the air. Beautiful!
Another lovely sight was a jay – we used to have one as a regular visitor to our garden, but I hadn’t seen one up close for years…
Of course I should have realised it was a plane tree by its absence of twinned winged maple fruits (whirlybirds). The plane has dangly seed balls, which I didn’t notice on this occasion, but which I have seen on the younger plane trees in the city centre. I took these pictures in late November 2010…
Meanwhile on the same day as I visited Bute Park I had also been to Llandaff Fields and taken a closer look at the majestic sycamore I always see on my way to the hornbeam I am “following” for a year…
The sycamore lost its leaves quite a while back, and not in the glorious way of a “proper” maple – or the glorious plane. The smaller sycamores in Cardiff hedgerows are still hanging on to their fading leaves, many of which are covered with tar spot fungus (Rhytisma acerinum). It’s a bit unsightly, but is thought to be an indicator of clean air!
It’s a shame they get so messy, as they are pretty when new…
In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
Hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that has not harmed it. There is a hollow in it
that is its death, though its living brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark face.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place, and feeds upon it,
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.
Thanks Bill – nice one! I found that poem and many more online here.
It’s easy to think of the sycamore as native to Britain, but it comes from central and southern Europe and was introduced here in the Middle ages. I thought I knew this particular sycamore well, but now it was bare it had a surprise for me…
I don’t suppose it can be call a parasite (I assume it is doing no harm?), so maybe you would call it a commensal organism on this occasion? Commensal literally means “eating at the same table”. I wonder if the little tree will get enough food? Will it thrive or wither away by next spring?
Autumn is taking a long time coming this year, but isn’t it wonderful, in so many ways?