Beijing, 30 July 2012
Until a few years ago, plane trees were not high on my list of favourites. The memories of my youth were of leprous-looking trees in a ragged line along anonymous city streets, with long strands of dirty bark peeling off them, a pathetic crown often savagely chopped to allow the passage of telephone and other wires, and every passing dog peeing on them. My grandmother would say that they were used because they were the only trees that could survive in cities. But what a life, I thought. Better no life than this …
And then one day, on a holiday with my wife in Spain, we were walking through the Jardín del Príncipe in Aranjuez, near Madrid, when we came across a row of absolutely magnificent plane trees, of vast girth, with huge spreading crowns of light green sparkling leaves, and whose bark ranged in colour from pale beige through pale green to ivory white. Simply ravishing. If we took photos, I have no record of them here. So I insert this picture of a plane tree in these gardens which I found on the web, to give the reader an idea of the beauty of these trees.
I add this picture of a row of the trees in the gardens to give an idea of their girth.
And I add this one simply because I like the colours!
I remembered that glorious moment of discovery yesterday when, visiting Ritan Park in Beijing on a beautiful day with a blue and – that rarest of things in this city – clear sky, we found ourselves sitting in the shade of a lovely plane tree. It was not as majestic as the specimens we had discovered in Spain, but it was still arresting. It had been manicured so that it grew more regularly in all directions, and a bench had been arranged around it in a wide circle.
We just sat there, drinking in the quiet beauty of it all.
One year on from writing this, I must report the saddest of news. Seventy years ago, US soldiers disembarked in Italy, carrying with them munitions boxes made with wood of the American plane tree. That wood contained a fungus, Ceratocystis platani, unknown to the plane trees in Europe and against which they have no defence. It has left Italy now and is slowly spreading throughout the rest of Europe. Eventually, it will kill millions of plane trees throughout Europe. This was reported by the BBC, where they were saying that the thousands of beautiful plane trees planted along the Canal du Midi
are becoming infected and will have to be cut down and burned.
I fear that the same fate will soon be shared by those lovely old plane trees in the Jardin del Principe. One more tragedy caused by the global movement of goods and people – and bugs that go with them for the ride.
plane trees on a street: http://animestoi.midiblogs.com/media/02/01/2964573664.jpg
photos of the Plane trees in the Jardin del Principe, Aranjuez:
photos of the plane tree in Ritan Park: mine
Canal du Midi-plane trees being burned: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-4yIXXHCnDRY/UYN1Ru6K3yI/AAAAAAAAAuM/16Cdm8bNqT4/s1600/Canal+du+midi+abattage+PK+143+%25287%2529.JPG