In this month’s magazine, Mary Forrest tells the story of a tree species that has graced royal gardens and cities over many centuries
From ancient times, plane trees have been valued in verse and song. Plato’s dialogue between the philosopher Socrates and an aristocrat Phaedrus took place in the shade of a plane tree. In Virgil’s epic poem The Georgics ‘plane trees [were] already offering their shade to drinkers’. In an aria by Handel – “Ombra mai fu” – King Xerxes of Persia sings of ‘the dear, sweet shade of a Plane tree’.
The plane tree was valued too by the citizens of Athens. Plutarch described how the statesman Kimon planted the Agora or market place with plane trees so as to provide a shaded location for citizens to gather. Similarly in Rome these trees were planted in colonnades and groves – avenues thickly planted with plane trees.
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