5 Most Common Urban Trees

Urban forestry is a vital and useful part of modern-day city and town development. Keeping our connection with nature is important, and trees provide that in abundance. But what are the most common types of urban trees, and what are their benefits?

It’s important to note that there are many, many different types of urban trees, but in this post we’ll be going through the 5 most common urban trees, as well as explaining the benefits to each of them.

Plane Trees

Plane treePlane trees are very large, bearing flowers of both sexes in different clusters on the same tree. They are native to North America, eastern Europe, and Asia. Their leaves are palmately lobed, meaning that the lobes spread radially from one point, kind of like fingers on a hand. For a time, they were colloquially known as the ‘London plane tree’ because of them lining up the streets of London during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The London plane trees are very useful, as they are resistant to air pollution as well as diseases that affect a lot of other plane trees. Plane trees grow very quickly, and offer a decent amount of shade. They’re also visually appealing for photos (especially in the winter), as when the outer bark drops off the inner bark features an assortment of colors, namely white, gray, green, and yellow.

As well as the London plane trees, there is the American plane tree, also known as sycamore, buttonwood, buttonball, or whitewood. American plane trees are the tallest, known to reach more than 160 feet in some cases. They have ball-shaped seed clusters that usually dangle individually and can persist after leaf fall.

There’s also the Oriental plane, which typically reaches 100 feet with huge, squat boles that measure on average 10 metres in circumference and 10 feet in diameter. Their seeds tend to hang in clusters of two to six.

The London plane trees are a hybrid of the American and Oriental planes, and typically have a biological combination of both of these types.

Finally, there is the California sycamore, which rises to about 80 feet and is characterised by its thick leaves, twisted branches, and seedballs that cluster in groups of two to seven.

While these are beneficial for being sturdy, requiring little root space, and being able to survive in most soils and temperatures; the drawbacks of them are that their sizes can be a problem if planted on busy roads. They also need to be pruned regularly, and the roots do have a habit of breaking through the pavement which can obviously cause problems and expenses down the road (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Sycamore Tree

Sycamore treeSycamore trees are very visually appealing; with their leaves forming broad, rounded crowns that make them ideal for parks and gardens, but they can also be found on roadsides. They live for up to 400 years and can grow up to 35 metres.

In the spring, they have small green flowers that hang in spikes. After pollination these spikes develop into brown, winged seeds which spiral to the ground like helicopter blades.

Sycamore trees provide for many animals as a source for food; namely aphids and caterpillars. Their flowers produce pollen and nectar for bees, and the seeds can be eaten by birds and small mammals.

The sycamore timber can be used to make kitchenware and furniture, like ladles and wooden spoons. The wood does not taint or stain the food, which made them very useful back when wooden kitchenware was the only possible option.

These trees are extremely tolerant of wind when reaching maturity; making them ideal for coastal and exposed areas where wind tends to be stronger. The sycamore trees are very tolerant to pollution; making them ideal for streets.

It’s worth noting that sycamore trees tend to be affected by horse chestnut scale insects, which appear as white, fluffy spots on the trunk and branches during the summer. They can also suffer from sooty bark, which can lead to death of the tree due to wilting.

English Oak

English OakEnglish oaks are the most common out of Britain’s five oak species. This native tree grows quickly during its first hundred years but slows after that, reaching on average 40 metres in height. They can live for over a thousand years, redirecting their energy from their canopy in order to extend their lifespan. This leads to shortening of the tree as it ages.

They tend to form a broad, spreading crown with sturdy branches. Their canopy is open, which allows light to flow through and flowers such as primrose grow as a result. They host and feed 280 species of insects and birds, namely marsh tits, caterpillars of the purple hairstreak butterfly, and bats among others.

Oak trees are also useful for producing acorns, with one tree able to produce up to 25 million acorns in its lifetime. But it takes about 40 years before an oak tree produces its first acorn, and 120 years for it to reach its peak in production. The acorns characteristically are born on long stalks through this tree, which is unique to the oak tree and helps urban foresters and botanists to identify the tree.

The English oak’s leaves are round-lobed, and have short leaf stalks.

Oaks have one of the most durable and strongest timbers on Earth; making them useful for flooring, wine barrels, and firewood. The acorns can be used to make flour for bread, and the tannin found in its bark is used to tan leather. It’s worth noting that it takes around 150 years for the oak to be ready for construction use, so plant early!

Silver Birch

Silver Birch Silver birch trees grow up to 25 metres and live for up to 200 years, making them a little more short-lived than other trees featured on this list, but by no means less useful.

The white bark on its trunk peels off. At the start, when the trees are young this bark is smooth, but then it peels off in horizontal strips as the tree gets older which results in deep ridges.

The silver birch tree can handle a wide range of temperatures and is also wind and frost resistant.

The trees are unique in being able to absorb nutrients from afar, which allows them to survive in soils that are very low in minerals. As well as that, the silver birch has a great tolerance to pollution. This has led to these trees being popular for roadsides, gardens, parks, and industrial areas.

Like the plane trees, silver birch have both male and female flowers during spring, but these hang on different stems. These flowers are called catkins, with the male ones being yellow, long, and hanging while their female counterparts are erect, bright green and shorter.

Similar to oaks, silver birches provide for over 300 insect species. Aphids can get many nutrients from the leaves, and woodpeckers often nest in the trunk. The seeds of the tree can be eaten by siskin and greenfinch birds.

Horse Chestnut

Horse ChestnutHorse chestnut trees live for up to 400 years and typically reach 40 metres. They are populated on streets, gardens, parks, and village greens.

These trees produce tall, upright spikes of gleaming white flowers with pink or yellow blotches on the petals.

They are very useful for wildlife; providing pollen and nectar for bees and other insects, as well as providing leaves for caterpillars which then get eaten by blue tit birds. Each flower produces four to five fruits, and the spiky green capsules contain one to three conkers that fall in autumn and can then be consumed by squirrels.

Their timber is pale cream to light brown with a smooth, soft and fine texture. The timber isn’t very strong so isn’t used commercially, but the soft texture is ideal for carving.

Forgetting their use in providing games of conkers for kids in the autumn, the conkers can be used as horse medicines, additives in shampoos and as a substitute for starch. They can also be used to treat strains and bruises when the chemicals are harvested from them.

There’s also a belief (never proven) that spiders will keep away from a house if conkers are placed around it; so if you’re suffering from a bit of arachnophobia than a horse chestnut tree could be your best friend.

Conclusion

We’ve barely scratched the surface of all of the different urban trees available, but these are the most commonly found ones. We hope that we’ve managed to shed some light on the benefits of these trees – now more than ever we need to be making a conscious effort to ensure that nature maintains a part to play in our way of life. For more information on how important this is, you can check out our post on the Benefits of Urban Forestry.

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