Usefulness and services of the tree :
Features and characters of the individual
This tree stands a little behind the large vaulted paths, formed by the plane trees in Parc Elisabeth. It is the largest of it species within the region. It sets itself apart, providing shade for the regular park goers, young sportsmen, pensioner line-dancers and the Plazei festival-goers. In order for this tree to continue thriving for a long time, it is important to leave space for its roots, which extend far away from the trunk. This is why a protective are has been made following the paths. Recycled organic matter nourishes the tree in this area.
The largest and oldest remarkable plane tree in Brussels is hidden in Parc Elisabeth in Koekelberg. It’s not so easy to find though, as the park is full of plane trees. Enter the park facing the basilica and follow the path right up to it.
The tree that you’re looking for is a hybrid plane. Normally, a plane tree is immediately recognisable because of its bark, which comes off in little patches with curved edges. This gives the trunk an interesting camouflage pattern, often in three colours: beige, green and ochre-brown.
You can see this kind of bark on the trees along the magnificent avenues bordering the central lawn. These trees will familiarise you with the species of the individual that we’re looking for. Under the vaulted foliage, especially on the right, you’ll find some useful clues for later. Look out for the leaves or the fruit.
On the tree we’re looking for, the bark has become more understated with age, so it won’t be of any help when you’re looking for it. The tone of its bark is more uniform, tending towards a brown colour. The little patches are less visible because they fall off very quickly. Moss also covers large sections of the bark.
Turn your attention to the palm-like leaves on these trees, which splay out like fingers on a hand. On hybrid plane trees, each leaf has five main veins. At the end of each leaf vein, the tips are quite square. (Be careful not to confuse them with the leaves of an Oriental plane, whose leaf veins are very elongated, very indented and pointed.)
The fruit forms small spiky balls that remain hanging on the branches for a long time. If you have the chance to see any of them on the ground, in late summer or autumn, you can entertain yourself by opening them up. Each ball contains a very large number of seeds, all squeezed into the middle and attached to silky crests around the outside. They look like furry pin cushions.
With all these clues in mind, or readily accessible in your pocket, leave the main avenues. Hybrid planes are commonly used for large bands of trees in cities. The real champion of the region can be found elsewhere though.
Into the wooded plots
To find the tree we’re looking for, take the winding paths deep into the wooded areas of the park. You’re looking for a real giant of a tree growing near an old bandstand and a small pavilion.
Its immense foliage merges into the surrounding canopy. It’s enormous trunk will definitely grab your attention, as it’s almost 6 metres in circumference. It has an amazing air of strength. The tree stands in the middle of an enclosed plot that has its own special atmosphere. It’s impossible to pass by without having a look. In case you’re in any doubt about whether you’re at the right tree, the clues in your pocket and in your head should help you to be sure. These features are going to be etched into your memory. There aren’t any other hybrid plane trees of this size in the park.
Tilt your gaze upwards and follow the line of the trunk to the impressive crown at the top. It’s so large that a whole colony could nest amongst the trees branches. The branches extend out really far away from the trunk. The trunk is a real prodigy of solidarity, supporting the branches as they hold the leaves in the light. It fights to get light from all sides using its height. In any slightly brighter spot that you might see, the tree has already managed to position one of its branches there to benefit from the light.
A giant with fragile footing
This champion of a tree looks like it’s invincible, but its base is fragile. Giant trees like this are often victims of their own success; the soft shade and peaceful, tranquil setting that they create attracts numerous visitors – having picnics, playing games, taking naps. This leads to the soil around the tree being compacted and depleted, and the tree’s roots therefore lack air, water and nutrients.
The giant is left weakened by the park’s excessive number of visitors. Even at a grand old age, it still needs to compete with neighbouring trees to reach the light. The park managers have therefore made a protective perimeter under its crown to allow the soil to loosen again and become richer like the soil in a forest. These efforts should give the tree enough strength to survive for another one or two hundred years. (Story and photos by Priscille Cazin https://www.sylvolutions.eu)