Plane Tree Varieties – Learn About Different Kinds Of Plane Tree

Plane Tree Leaves
plane tree
(Image credit: CCeliaPhoto)

What comes to mind when you think of a plane tree? Gardeners in Europe might conjure images of the London plane trees that line city streets, while Americans might think of the species they know better as sycamore. The purpose of this article is to clear up the differences among the many types of plane tree. Keep reading to learn more about the different plane tree varieties you might come across.

How Many Different Plane Trees are There?

“Plane tree” is the name given to any of the six to ten species (opinions vary on the exact number) in the genus Platanus, the only genus in the family Platanaceae. Platanus is an ancient genus of flowering trees, with fossils confirming it to be at least 100 million years old.

Platanus kerrii is native to East Asia, and Platanus orientalis (oriental plane tree) is native to western Asia and southern Europe. The remaining species are all native to North America, including:

  • California sycamore (Platanus racemosa)
  • Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii)
  • Mexican sycamore (Platanus mexicana)

The best known is probably Platanus occidentalis, more commonly referred to as the American sycamore. One defining characteristic shared among all the species is inflexible bark that breaks and breaks away as the tree grows, resulting in a mottled, peeling appearance.

Are There Other Types of Plane Tree?

To make understanding the different plane trees even more confusing, the London plane tree (Platanus × acerifolia) that’s so popular in European cities is actually a hybrid, a cross between Platanus orientalis and Platanus occidentalis.

This hybrid has been around for centuries and is often difficult to distinguish from its parent the American sycamore. There are a few key differences, however. American sycamores grow to a much larger mature height, produce individual fruits, and have less pronounced lobes on their leaves. Planes, on the other hand, stay smaller, produce fruits in pairs, and have more pronounced leaf lobes.

Within each species and hybrid, there are also numerous plane tree cultivars. Some popular ones include:

  • Platanus × acerifolia ‘Bloodgood,’ ‘Columbia,’ ‘Liberty,’ and ‘Yarwood’
  • Platanus orientalis ‘Baker,’ ‘Berckmanii,’ and ‘Globosa’
  • Platanus occidentalis ‘Howard’
Liz Baessler
Senior Editor

The only child of a horticulturist and an English teacher, Liz Baessler was destined to become a gardening editor. She has been with Gardening Know how since 2015, and a Senior Editor since 2020. She holds a BA in English from Brandeis University and an MA in English from the University of Geneva, Switzerland. After years of gardening in containers and community garden plots, she finally has a backyard of her own, which she is systematically filling with vegetables and flowers.