Dear Readers, after my December post yesterday, which mentioned how London Plane trees have a mass of seedballs on them at the moment, I thought I’d check out the trees on our local high street, to see what was going on. They look very bare and well-pollarded at this time of year, and I love the way their twigs are silhouetted against the sky. Not all the trees are planes, however – just sneaking in on the right is a solitary lime tree (you might remember that I mentioned that on one of the East Finchley ‘County Roads’, Lincoln Road, the majority of the trees are limes and indeed, further up the road to the north there’s a whole row of them, with a single ginkgo popped in for a bit of variety). I also love the way that the trees are leaning out from the buildings, as if trying to grab every bit of light that they can.
At the crossroads there’s a particularly mature tree, and most of the trees on the way down to East Finchley Station are truly magnificent, and very much appreciated on a hot day, when this side of the road is notably cooler than the other side with its smaller, younger trees. And you can see the ‘achenes’, the seedheads, up in the branches. It’s interesting that only some of the plane trees have them, and I’m guessing that this depends on how recently they’ve been pollarded. Incidentally, councils are obliged to do this because otherwise they can be sued if there’s any subsidence or root intrusion. Fortunately the planes seem to tolerate it.
And here’s a quick shout out to our local cinema, the Phoenix, pictured here behind an offshoot of a plane tree that I suspect will be pruned off fairly soon, before it starts bashing the passing buses. The Phoenix was opened in 1912 as the East Finchley Picturedrome, and in its time it has also been The Coliseum and The Rex. After a shaky lockdown period it’s still going strong, and is a great place for arthouse films (though it also shows films like Star Wars). And having had a look on the London Tree Map I have just noticed that the tiny little tree to the right of the Phoenix is also apparently a lime.
And finally, here is a rather arty image of one of the planes on the final run down to East Finchley Station, showing the fruits. Or, in fact, the catkins – I always think of the lemon-yellow ‘lambs tails’ of hazel, or those lovely furry numbers produced by some species of willow, but these balls are the London plane equivalent, and are stuffed full of small hairy seeds which are often blamed for exacerbating asthma and hay fever. In some places, finches have taken to eating the seeds but sadly not in London, where I suspect they’re all eating sunflower seeds in my garden. However, I’ve noticed a great many birds enjoying these trees – flocks of goldfinches sing from the high twigs, woodpigeons seem to enjoy doing their courting from the stout branches, crows and magpies make their nests at the top and there’s a tree in East Finchley that I think of fondly as the starling tree – at this time of year there’s a mini-murmuration as the starlings argue over who is going to roost where. So, although often condemned as a plant without much wildlife value, I suspect that the London plane is a friend to more animals (and humans) than we sometimes give it credit for. Here is a little film taken in December 2015 of starlings in ‘the starling tree’.
And here is the starling tree itself. This has been pollarded recently, so I suspect the starlings might have moved on to another tree but there are plenty to choose from.