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Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007

IN BLOOM

Momijiba-suzukake (London plane tree)


Two travellers, worn out by the heat of the summer's sun, laid themselves down at noon under the wide-spreading branches of a Plane Tree. As they rested under its shade, one of the Travellers said to the other, "What a singularly useless tree is the Plane! It bears no fruit, and is not of the least service to man." The Plane Tree, interrupting him, said, "You ungrateful fellows! Do you, while receiving benefits from me and resting under my shade, dare to describe me as useless, and unprofitable?' Some men underrate their best blessings.

From Aesop's Fables (www.english-zone.com/reading/fables.html), translated by George Fyler Townsend.

The tree was quite right to upbraid the ungrateful travelers. For, as well as being an attractive tree in all seasons, its hard wood is very durable, and has been used for making many things, from furniture to musical instruments. But one of the greatest gifts of the plane tree, especially the London plane, is the way it has beautified our cities. During the 19th century, when the air of London was often choking with soot and smog, this was one of the few trees that could grow in the streets. If you look at the bark, you will see why: The tree literally shrugs off pollution because it is continually outgrowing and shedding its bark. This is why the bark has an attractive "camouflage" pattern in shades of green, gray and cream. The London plane (Platanus acerifolia) is thought to have sprung up in Oxford, England in the 17th century. Its parents were the sacred Oriental plane from southeastern Europe and Asia Minor (P. orientalis) and the stately American plane or sycamore or buttonwood tree (P. occidentalis) from the eastern United States. Its Japanese name means "maple-leaf hanging-bell tree," from the shape of its leaves and its golden clusters of autumn seeds.



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