Planetree Questions II: The Final Five

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Q6. – What are the key horticultural features of planetrees?


Sycamore at College of Wooster
A large sycamore at the College of Wooster.


Looking up at a sycamore
I told you it was large - and tall. Jason Veil and Steve Shaffer visit COW from OSU.


A6. – Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) and other planetrees love water, and you can see that along rivers. If you do not believe me, next winter, visit Clifton Gorge Nature Preserve in Greene County. Take the upper trail and look down toward the gorge and the Little Miami River. Beautiful sycamores on either side, very defined when leaves are off the trees. They are not intolerant of reasonably dry sites, though. They grow fast and truly become large trees with age, both in size and spread: Michael Dirr & Keith Warren in “The Tree Book” cite 80 feet by 70 feet for London planetree (Platanus xacerifolia) and 75-100 feet tall for sycamore.


Sycamores are large trees.


Harvard glass flowers and leaves
Check out these glass flowers and leaves next time you visit Harvard's Peabody Museum. Over 4000 in toto.


They are “dirty” for horticulturists interested in mowing in the area, with fallen leaves and twigs from anthracnose, exfoliated bark, disintegrating seed-heads, and fallen branches. However. They are “the bone structure of the landscape” in winter and the mottled bark is sensational, the “everchanging vision of the everlasting view” as Carole King put it so well.


Planetree bark in Iowa yard
Planetree bark and leaves in Iowa yard. Good-sized "devil strip".


I suppose she was not really talking about planetrees, but who knows? Obviously planetrees do need some space and given certain conditions may cause sidewalk issues. Large maple-like leaves are impressive: we get a bunch of them in our yard each fall, though I am not sure where they come from; there are none nearby as far as I can tell, and they are big enough not to be carried by the merest wisp o’ wind.   


Q7. – What are some uses of planetrees?


A7. – Planetrees are widely used as street trees and for other ornamental uses. As large-canopy trees with fairly fast growth they have high i-Tree values for environmental services trees provide. Planetrees are used for timber and for biomass energy production.  


Tree walk at OSU
Obviously not a sign for a planetree. But it does give some ideas about I-Tree benefits. On OSU Campus.


Q8. – What are some cultivars of planetrees?


A8. – London planetrees are where the action is for planetree street trees and other horticultural uses. Some of the many you may want to investigate include:


‘Bloodgood’ for the attractive bark, anthracnose tolerance, and graceful form; one of the trees trialed in the Shade Tree Plot at Secret Arboretum.


‘Morton Circle’ Exclamation!TM is noted as the favorite by Dirr & Warren in “ The Tree Book”. Hybridized at the Chicago-area’s Morton Arboretum. They list its merits as its cold hardiness, straight trunks and narrowly pyramidal shape, and pubescence of spring leaves providing a somewhat silvery appearance. Morton touts its especially attractive exfoliating bark.


Others include ‘Liberty’, a National Arboretum selection “rivaling ‘Bloodgood” (Dirr & Warren); ‘Pyramidalis’ with a narrower form than most (abundant fruit production); and ‘Suttneri’ with variegations of cream, yellow, and green in the foliage and especially attractive exfoliating bark, exposing snow-white bark that Bill Hendricks of Klyn Nursery touts as rivaling white-barked birches.   


Q9. – What is the family for the genus Platanus


Fossilized planetree from WIkipedia
Fossilized planetree fruit from the Cretaceous. From WIkipedia


A9. – This is an easy one. It is a member of the Platanaceae. And it is a mono-generic family.  There are fossil relatives from the Lower Cretaceous Period, indicating that planetrees began to evolve fairly early in the development of flowering plants.   


Fossil planetree
Fossilized planetree leaf from the Cretaceous. From WIkipedia.


Q10.- What are some cultural references to planetrees?


A10. – Let’s take a look at two.  First, is the Pinchot Sycamore in Simsbury Connecticut.  After my planetree bygl-alert yesterday, Richard Cowles of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, a new BYGL reader due to the tireless efforts of Joe Boggs, e-mailed that he lives 10 miles from said sycamore. It was measured in 2016 with an average canopy diameter of 121 feet, a trunk 18 feet around, a height of approximately 100 feet.  


Pinchot sycamore from Wikipedia
The Pinchot Sycamore. From WIkipedia.


The Pinchot Sycamore is touted as the largest tree in Connecticut and tied at one time for second largest sycamore in the country, with the largest being astride a farm field near Jeromesville in Ashland County, Ohio. I use phrases such as “touted as” and “at one time” because storms happen and rot happens and new finds happen and…I have been at the Ohio specimen, visiting years ago with ODNR Division of Forestry’s Ann Bonner and Barb Fair (now on the faculty of North Carolina State University) and it is quite remarkable.


The Yale graduate Gifford Pinchot was the first head of the U.S. Forest Service, appointed by President Teddy Roosevelt.  For wonderful stories of Roosevelt and Pinchot, check out “Wilderness Warrior” by historian Douglas Brinkley (and his FDR book “Rightful Heritage”).  Pinchot was involved in some high-profile struggles.


One was with Richard Ballinger, Secretary of Interior in the Taft administration over adherence to Rooseveltian conservation philosophy.  A second was with Yosemite’s John Muir over Muir’s concept of “preservation” of wilderness area untouched vs. Pinchot’s and TR’s concept of “conservation” and utilization of wilderness for the public good. He later became  the Governor of Pennsylvania.    


Must check it out – when travel once again is doable.  


Our second story is of: the Buttonwood Agreement. I say “our” because if I do not tell at least some of this story, Joe Boggs has agreed to disinherit me (We have co-joined West Virginia Wills, and we are allowed to say so since we are both Almost Heaven natives). Not to mention the fact that he is 99% as smart as me; wait, what does that mean, does that extra 1% mean that he is smarter or less smart than me?). I prove my point.  


Buttonwood Agreement. From Wall Street Journal
Buttonwood Agreement picture. From Wall Street Journal.


May 17, 1792. Two dozen monied New Yorkers signed said Buttonwood Agreement, launching the first New York Stock Exchange.  Under a buttonwood tree, the largest tree around, Platanus occidentalis. “Button” because the wood of sycamore makes nice buttons. That’s where the 1% comes into play.


Want to know even more about planetrees and the Buttonwood Agreement, with many wonderful pictures, including their sensational flowers? Check out 939, Joe Bogg’s “Ode to the Buttonwood.”


Joe Boggs
Joe Boggs practicing social distancing several years ago.


Indiana State Sycamores
From Google. First, they were the Fighting Teachers, then the Fighting Sycamores. Larry Bird and MSU's Magic Johnson: what a Final Four!