The trees of France may be as memorable as the Eiffel Tower. Most specifically, the London plane trees.
These creatures are everywhere, dappling shade over cafe tables in village squares as well as benches in grand gardens such as those at Versailles.
The bark is what makes London plane trees seem more like "creatures" than mere trees. You know the bark, even if you have never been to France, because the London plane tree is the hybrid offspring of our native sycamore. Both have bark that's mottled like flaking wallpaper, with grayish orange, young bark peeling off to reveal patches of creamy yellow or olive green older bark.
Because the trees are so long-lived and tall, broad expanses of bark memorably stare you in the face. Plane trees are fast-growing and tolerant of disease and air pollution.
The French must love their London plane trees. Young trees are carefully staked and regularly watered, and trees young and old often are meticulously pruned.
The most delightful use of London plane trees is along roadsides. Now I'm not talking about just a few roadside plane trees here and there out in the country, or a row of them lining only the main street of a village. I'm talking about miles and miles of plane trees guiding you along country roads, sometimes on only one side of the road, sometimes on both sides of the road.
As with the trees in the village parks and squares, these roadside trees show that they were well-treated in their youth. They are planted at uniform spacing and pruned as needed to develop a high head, usually high enough to originate above utility wires. Then there's no need to prune disfiguring holes into the canopy of branches to avoid interference with the wires.
I propose planting rows of London plane trees -- or sycamores, where the site suits them -- along some of our country roads. Our countryside is as beautiful as that of anywhere in the world, so why shouldn't our roads be charming tunnels of greenery?
On the practical side, those pale trunks make good guides in the darkness of night, much more pleasant than highway reflectors.
Let's not shy away from such extensive tree plantings because of the time involved for trees to grow stately. In France, it's a heartening sight to see massive, old trees standing side by side with young whips. Old trees are gifts from the past; young ones are hopes for the future.
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