Stocks Green

Stocks Green, March 2020, showing the Baptist Chapel and the London plane tree

Stocks Green is listed in the 1834 enclosures act, but apart from that we know relatively little about its history. It has been used as a parking area for the Baptist Chapel since the 1920s.

The stocks

There is a common misconception as to what stocks are. Most people think they are what you see at village fetes, that hold your wrists and neck so you can have a wet sponge thrown at you. However, these are pillories. Stocks are for your ankles, and you would usually be sat a large stone with your ankles in the stock. Quite often there were four holes for two people.

The London plane tree

The most striking feature about Stock’s Green is the plane tree. The plane, or London plane (Platanus x hispanica) is not a native tree, but is yet familiar to many of us. It was planted widely in the 1700s, especially by the Georgians and then the Victorians in London as avenues within many of the parks that have become synonymous with that period. Finsbury Park in north London has some of the best examples of this tree, many approaching 200 years of age.

London plane is a hybrid between the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) and Oriental plane (P. orientalis). It’s sycamore-like leaves means that it often gets confused with the more widespread sycamore (another non-native from Europe). In fact (or at least if a name is anything to go by), it is the sycamore which is the imposter; its Latin name being Acer psuedoplatanus (or the ‘false plane maple’). However, when both are in seed, it is easy to tell the difference; London plane bears a ‘pom-pom’ like fruiting body, whereas the sycamore bears the familiar ‘helicopter seeds’. Another characteristic of London plane is the scaly and forever peeling bark, giving it a ‘camouflaged’ appearance.

A relatively well known and widely reported study estimated that our native pedunculate oak supports around 280 species of specialist insect, whereas London plane supports just one. That is hardly surprising – non-native species don’t inherit the insect fauna that co-evolved with it in its native area. So why are there so many plane trees around?

Plane trees seem to do very well, or at least much better than many native species, in cities. They are particularly resistant to drought stress, compacted soils and atmospheric pollutants. Indeed, it has been suggested that the constant small-scale shedding of the scaly bark appears to give the tree its ability to withstand high levels of atmospheric pollutants.

Whilst the capital city is certainly a stronghold, London plane can be found all over the UK. Indeed, specimens can be found in Histon, Cottenham and Rampton and it was for a time a popular tree to plant on village greens. The tolerance of drought is likely to mean that the plane will continue to thrive in a warming climate.

The plane tree on Stocks Green was planted in 1836, but could live for 300 years and perhaps many more than that. These trees have simply not been grown in England for much longer so no-one really knows.

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