Featured Tree: Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

DATE 1/4/2018

By: Brianna Egge

Sycamore Form and Achenes

Platanus occidentalis, also referred to as American sycamore or simply sycamore, is regarded as one of the most massive native trees in North America. This deciduous tree commonly grows 75-100 feet tall with a rounded canopy and massive trunk. It is native to lowland areas and grows largest when near a water source, such as a river or stream. Sycamore survives in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9. They grow well in medium to wet soils with full sun but prefer moist, humusy soils. They tolerant light shade and have been known to withstand most urban pollutants.

Sycamore Bark and Leaves

Sycamores grow with a straight trunk and horizontal branching. This tree is commonly known for its beautiful bark, which starts as a brown and exfoliates into irregular pieces to reveal a creamy white inner bark. As the tree matures, the bark becomes more mottled with the brown and white contrasting bark colors. They have large dark green, broadly ovate, 3-5 lobed leaves (4-10 inches wide), with coarse marginal teeth. In the fall, the leaves turn a yellow-brown color.

Sycamore Achenes

Small monoecious flowers appear in clusters in springtime; the male flowers are yellow and female flowers are red. The female flowers give way to fuzzy spherical fruit balls about the size of a ping-pong ball with a long stalk. The fruit balls ripen to a brown color in October and persist through December. Each one of these fruit balls contains numerous tiny seed-like fruits called achenes. These achenes will disperse through the wind as the fruit balls disintegrates in the winter months.

Sycamore in the Autumn

Historically, Native Americans used the hollowed out trunk sections for canoes, and the large hollow trunks of giant trees were used as homes for chimney swifts. Also, European settlers supposedly gave this tree it’s common name of sycamore because the leaves resembled the sycamore of the British Isles, Acer pseudoplatanus, which is actually a maple. Overall, although the sycamore is too messy for boulevard use, the unique bark makes it a popular tree choice in parks and yards as a landscape tree.


References

  1. “Platanus occidentalis.” Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder. Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d. Web. 7 December 2017. <http://bit.ly/21aTsMC>
  2. “Platanus occidentalis.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Plant Database. University of Texas, 9 November 2015. Web. 7 December 2017. <http://bit.ly/2zU1uCy>
  3. “American Sycamore.” Illinois Wildflowers. Illinois Wildflowers, n.d. Web. 7 December 2017. <http://bit.ly/2AXYOri>

Photos

  1. Wasowski, Sally and Andy. “Platanus occidentalis in winter, SW.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. University of Texas, 11 July 2006. Digital Image. 7 December 2017. <http://bit.ly/2ABIt9k>
  2. Schwartzman, Steven. “Seed balls on bare stems.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. University of Texas, 23 May 2010. Digital Image. 7 December 2017. <http://bit.ly/2k21dHf>
  3. “Platanus occidentalis bark.” Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder. Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d. Digital Image. 7 December 2017. <http://bit.ly/2ABFBsU>
  4. Lytle, Melody. “Foliage of Platanus occidentalis.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. University of Texas, 27 October 2003. Digital Image. 7 December 2017. <http://bit.ly/2AWyfD3>
  5. Alan Cressler. “Close-up of globose heads of female flowers and emergent leaves.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. University of Texas, 28 August 2014. Digital Image. 7 December 2017. <http://bit.ly/2zU1nXO>
  6. Smith, R.W. “Close-up of a globose flower head and newly-emergent leaves.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. University of Texas, 15 April 2015. Digital Image. 7 December 2017. <http://bit.ly/2Aytpvl>
  7. Famartin. “American Sycamore displaying autumn foliage along Tranquility Lane in the Franklin Farm section of Oak Hill, Fairfax County, Virginia.” Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons, 18 November 2016. Digital Image. 7 December 2017. <http://bit.ly/2AypqyE>