American Sycamore

sycamore range mapThere are three species of Sycamore native to the US – two out west, only one here where I live:  American Sycamore.  Platanaceae Platanus occidentalis.  Other common names include American planetree, buttonwood, and buttonball-tree.  Like the Cucumbertree I wrote about last time, the Sycamore’s range extends into Canada just a bit in southern Ontario.



American Sycamore FruitThe “button” names come from the shape of its fruit – like little round Christmas tree ornaments.  The fruits appear in late summer and hang on to the tree through the winter.  Each ball is actually a cluster of many seeds which will break apart in spring.


American Sycamore LeafThe leaves can get to be quite large making them very conspicuous as you shuffle through the fallen fall foliage.  Leaves can be four to eight inches wide!  The leaves fade a bit or turn yellow-brown before they fall – and they may fall throughout the summer.  No brilliant fall colors here.  Still, this tree has its own unique beauty.

American Sycamore BarkThe bark is the dead give-away for this tree.  It exfoliates giving a mottled, almost camouflage appearance.  Very pretty!

Many of the accounts for this tree mention its size – referring to it as massive.  Mature trees can get to be 75-100 feet tall and 50-75 wide.

The wood is hard and course-grained.  It is used for boxes, barrels, butchers’ blocks, cabinet work, and furniture, according to Peterson’s Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs.

Peterson’s guide to Edible Wild Plants notes that the sap can be used to make syrup and sugar, but “huge amouts of sap are needed and the results are mediocre.”   The author also notes that the sap “is a fine source of pure drinking and cooking water in areas with contaminated water.”

While I have issues with the story line and visual portrayal of the characters, I do love the the song “Colors of the Wind” from the Disney movie Pocahontas:

How high will the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you’ll never know
And you’ll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon

For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind

You can own the Earth and still
All you’ll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind

Need to know more?  Check out these websites:

6 thoughts on “American Sycamore

  1. Sycamore is one tree that’s easy enough for me to identify.-I didn’t realize that it had alternate names, and never related those buttonballs that I found on the ground as coming from that tree-so I learned a bit-thanks

  2. There is a special beauty in sycamores–a light and dark to the bark that is so random.
    We have one in our front yard (and many line our creek, as they are lowland lovers) that I had fun photographing last spring. I think I remember reading at that time, and it surprised me–to find they’re the largest tree in North America. (diameter)
    What a great home their hollow boles make for so many animals!

  3. Pingback: Tackling Maples « A Passion for Nature

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