Oriental Plane Tree is a tall, deciduous, rapidly growing tree with a thick trunk. It is very prominent in certain landscapes, but is considered rare in Israel. The number of individuals in the wild is apparently only several hundreds, several thousands at the most. There are 75 sites where it grows in Israel, most of them remnants with only a few trees.
Platanus orientalis grows wild in the north of Israel along river banks that conduct water all year, on both sides of the watershed, especially along Betzet, Amud, Snir (Hatzbani) and Hermon (Banias) rivers. Single individuals grow as far south as the Judea Mountains. The efforts of naturalists to preserve water flow in the rivers of the Galilee have revolved to a great extent around saving the Oriental Plane Tree, and have been rather successful, but not before some of the trees died.
The species is common and very successful in gardening, in parks and avenues.
The leaves are large, deeply split into 5 emarginated lobes. It should be emphasized that a large emarginated leaf is common in many species that are not related to each other, such as the fig, castor oil plant, maples (especially famous northern species), and should not be regarded as a distinct identification characteristic. The leaf is pilose, especially on its lower side. The trunk peels in patches, and has a picturesque look of white and greenish spots. The shape of the trunk is also interesting, with numerous knots, especially old trees that were damaged every once in a while by natural events, such as floods. In trees that grow domesticated, the trunk is straight and more"simple". The tree, which grows on riverbanks, grows rapidly both in height (up to a height of 25 meters) and in width (trunks with a diameter of 2 meters are not rare).
The flowers are single-sex, but male and female flowers grow on the same tree, and sometimes on the same branch. The flowers are tiny and not colorful, pollinated by wind and bloom in April-May.
The fruit (actually a capitulum, aggregate fruit) looks like a porcupine ball with a diameter of 3 cm, encompassed by protruding dull thorns. Upon opening it disperses hundreds of seeds (single-seed nutlets) that are equipped with a tuft of hairs for dispersion by wind.
In Israel the wood was sometimes used for construction, but rather rarely.
The distribution of the species covers the East Mediterranean countries and the Middle East, from Italy to the Caucasus and Himalaya mountains. In Turkey and Greece there are trees of huge dimensions that are hundreds years old. The crown of the tree there spreads horizontally more than vertically, unlike its usual vertical growth in Israel.
The genus includes 10 species, of which only two grow in the Old World. A species called Planatus occidentalis grows in the Western Hemisphere. There are no reproduction barriers between Planatus occidentalis and Platanus orientalis (except for distance), and hybrids are easily formed when they are planted next to one another.
In folk medicine the leaves were used to heal burns (perhaps because the hairs on the leaves cause skin irritation), and the bark and fruits were used against scorpion and snake bites.
Written by Mike Livne