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Platanus occidentalis | American Sycamore

October 13, 2021 Juliette Blew 1 Comment

The American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is one of my favorite trees. Why, you ask? I’ve always had a thing for interesting plant textures, and trees with unique bark always catch my eye. Every child knows how to draw a tree: narrow brown trunk, fluffy green cotton candy-esque leaf canopy. Easy. l If you really stop to look at individual trees, though, you’d be surprised how few trees resemble anything close to that archetype. The sycamore is one such tree.

The artistry! Don’t forget the subtle trunk flare.

Really old sycamores grow massive trunks wider around than my arms can reach (and I’m 5’11, I have very long arms), but even the young ones have the same interesting bark texture. The smooth brown bark exfoliates, no skincare routine required, to reveal splotches of the younger, paler inner bark. On younger trees, this splotchy exfoliating pattern can look almost like camouflage, and sometimes the bark even takes on a pale green color. As sycamores age, this pattern can be harder to distinguish on the trunks, but they can still be easily identified by the same pattern on their heavy, thick branches.

Once you know what to look for, you start to see sycamores everywhere. From forests along the side of highways to residential streets, you can’t miss their striking mottled trunks. Maybe I just like them because even I can identify them with my terrible eyesight. In any case, I love seeing these trees everywhere I go.

If you want to plant one, make sure you leave plenty of room for it to grow. Walking home from class down residential streets of State College was always a great reminder of this, where hundred-year-old sycamore trunks completely fill the several feet of space between the road and sidewalk, in some cases forcing the sidewalk to actually divert around their massive trunks. Of course, you shouldn’t expect that kind of growth within your lifetime, but always be mindful when planting that your landscape will likely outlive you.

Did I pique your interest in planting your very own sycamore? Give us a call today!

One Comment

    April 3, 2024 REPLY

    Thanks for including information about sycamore trees in your blog! While most people are familiar with maples and oaks (both great species with lots of variety and impressive wildlife value!), the majestic sycamore is unfortunately less known, but also wonderfully valuable. I came to know sycamore trees because there were a few next to my elementary schoolyard – they were impressive then, and are still impressive now, decades later!

    I hope to see many more native U.S. species featured in your blog! Don’t forget to write about native shrubs too!

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