American Sycamore (Platanus Occidentalis) Facts. Good Tree or Not?

When you want to plant an American sycamore, you will want to consider many things. Is the tree native? Does it have a shape and height that will work with your yard design? Is it going to provide you with the advantages you want?

It is beloved by many homeowners and despised by others, so you will want to learn more about this tree before planting one (or if you have one).

We will cover a lot about American sycamore in this post, so you will know if it is a fit for your yard.


American Sycamore (Platanus Occidentalis) Facts

Here are some facts about the American sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis).

  1. The American sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) has other names like:
    • Buttonwood
    • Buttonball
    • Western plane
    • Water Beech
    • Waterplane
  2. The names buttonwood or buttonball are because of the spherical seed clusters they produce.
  3. It is one of the fastest-growing trees in the U.S.
  4. The American sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) can grow more than 100 feet tall.
  5. In size, it is the leading hardwood tree native to North America.
  6. The American sycamore sycamores can live for hundreds of years.
  7. It may thrive in different habitats, from rocky outcroppings to swampy places beside streams and rivers.
  8. The tree produces tiny flowers each spring, but they’re not noticeable unless you look near the tree while it’s flowering.

Is American Sycamore a Good Tree?

The American sycamore is a good tree, especially for ecological purposes. It is a fast-growing tree and is quick to provide shade or windbreak. Also, it is large and long-lived enough to provide a habitat for many birds and small mammals.

What Does an American Sycamore Tree Look Like?

Let us learn what the American sycamore looks like from its characteristics. This characteristic makes it distinctive among other North American trees.

  • Height and width
  • Branches
  • Bark
  • Leaves
  • Flowers

Height and width

The tree may reach as tall as over 60 feet and over 50 feet in width. Sycamores can grow to a large size, with heights of 150 feet (46 m) and diameters of up to 7 feet (2.1 m). The largest recorded specimen was near Alum Rock in California and measured 22 feet (6.7 m) in diameter, and 266 feet (81 m) tall when felled in 1964.

It is also one of North America’s longest-lived trees, with reported specimens reaching over 2,500 years old. It is easily identified by its distinctive leaves that turn bright gold to yellow before they fall off in the autumn.

They are also unique for their very large size relative to other trees (most broad-leaved trees have much smaller leaves).


 Its large, wide-spreading branches grow into a canopy that begins at the bottom of its trunk. The American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), often called Buttonwood is a large deciduous hardwood tree that grows in and around swamps, flood plains, and along rivers. Its seeds were ground into flour for bread by Native Americans. Also, its wood was used for making boats, wagons, and wooden wheels.

The bark was used to make a tanning agent for leather, and the trunk has scaly grayish-brown bark and is up to 8 inches thick. It has whorled branches and broad, coarsely toothed leaves, which are approximately 6-12 long and have saw-toothed edges. The leaf petioles form a flattened wing along each side of each branch. On older trees, these wings reach nearly halfway down large stems.


The color of an American Sycamore’s bark turns from light brown to white or gray as it ages. In younger trees, the bark has a smooth texture. The tree’s rough bark peels away from its trunk in areas of white or gray flakes as it ages.

Read to find out if sycamore trees have white barks.


The leaves of the American sycamore are large. They have three to five lobes and a heart-shaped base. They are green on top and paler underneath, and they turn yellow in autumn.


The tree produces greenish-yellow flowers that bloom in early summer. These flowers of the sycamore are not noticeable because they grow in balls. Female American Sycamore trees give 1-inch seed balls that dangle from the branches. The females have a ball shape, and the males have a conical shape. Its female flower can even produce ten thousand seeds during her life.

Learn about when sycamore trees bloom.

Where do American Sycamore Trees Grow?

The American sycamore tree grows in the eastern half of the United States, from New England to Florida and west to Missouri, Kansas, and Texas. It also grows in Ontario, Canada, and parts of Mexico.

This tree grows in different soil types but prefers moist, well-drained soil. It also requires full sun or partial shade. This tree can grow in climates ranging from U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9b.

Soil pH requirements for sycamores vary by region. But in general, sycamores prefer soil with a pH between 6 and 7 (6.5 is ideal). Also, they will tolerate soils with a higher pH level in areas where the water supply is high.

Find out if you should plant a sycamore tree.

How Fast does an American Sycamore Tree Grow?

The American Sycamore is a fast-growing tree. It can grow three to 10 feet per year, reaching 80 to 100 feet tall at maturity. By the time it reaches 40 feet tall, the trunk might be around four feet wide. The tree’s girth is impressive; at maturity, the tree has a base that can reach 12 feet wide.

That makes them a good choice for homeowners who want fast shade without waiting forever for a tree to mature.

How Long Does an American Sycamore Live?

The American sycamore is one of the longest-living trees in the United States, sometimes reaching as old as 800 years. The lifespan of a sycamore tree depends on several factors, including its location and care and if it suffers any damage or disease during its life cycle.

An American sycamore tree in Virginia known as the Hanging Rock Sycamore might be between 300 and 400 years old.

How do you Take Care of American Sycamore?

American Sycamore trees are easy to care for and do not need extensive maintenance once you have planted them in your yard. Here are a few tips when caring for them.

Tip 1

It is better to plant it where there is no risk of fences or walls damaging its branches. Plant your tree in an area that receives full sunlight to partial shade. It needs good drainage.

Tip 2

Water your tree at least once per week during the first year after planting. Do not water your tree immediately after planting; instead, allow it to settle for a few days before watering. Keep the soil around your tree a little moist but do not overwater as this can damage the root system.

Tip 3

Fertilize your tree with a slow-release fertilizer. Do this once every year in late spring or early summer. A 10-10-10 fertilizer is ideal for sycamores. Only use balanced fertilizer labeled as safe for use on trees. Sprinkle a handful of fertilizer around the base of the sycamore

Tip 4

American Sycamore needs plenty of space. Make sure it has enough room for its roots and branches to grow. It avoids it interfering with other plants or buildings.

Is American Sycamore a Hardwood?

The American sycamore tree is a hardwood tree. But it is not as hard as other hardwoods. It is softer than oak, maple, cherry, and other common hardwoods. 1

While the wood is not as strong as oak or maple, it does have some advantages over these more common woods. It does not shrink as much when dried out after getting cut from the tree. It also has fewer splinters than oak or maple when worked on with a saw or chisel.

These characteristics make it ideal for use in projects such as bowls and wooden spoons where strength takes less priority over appearance and ease of working with the material.

Some Characteristics of the Sycamore Tree

  • It’s good at preventing fires.
  • The tree has pretty yellow flowers.
  • It grows quickly.
  • Their bark contains tannins.
  • It’s susceptible to Dutch elm disease.
  • They can reach massive sizes.

It’s good at preventing fires.

The American sycamore is resistant to fire, which means that it can be planted near homes without causing a risk of fire spreading from your home to its branches and leaves.

The tree has pretty yellow flowers.

In springtime, American sycamores produce small yellow flowers with white centers. These are pollinated by bees and other insects, resulting in small green fruits (each containing one seed) that ripen by fall and eventually drop off.

It grows quickly.

Although not quite as fast-growing as some other trees such as eucalyptus or pine trees, American sycamores grow quickly enough to provide shade within just a few years after planting.

Their bark contains tannins.

Like many other types of trees, the bark of a sycamore contains tannins—these are used to make dyes for clothing and leather goods like shoes or saddles.

It’s susceptible to Dutch elm disease.

As with many other types of trees, Dutch elm disease poses a serious threat to American sycamores.

They can reach massive sizes.

Some individual American sycamores may reach heights of up to 80 feet tall and live for hundreds of years.

Are American Sycamore Trees Messy?         

Yes, it is a messy tree. While it does not cause a mess like other trees, it is not as tidy as some.

Its bark can be quite messy. The American sycamore’s bark is often described as an attractive shade of gray. But it does tend to peel off in large chunks and is a bit messy, although you shouldn’t expect a giant mess of peeling bark around your home just from one tree! Still, when you’re planting your shade trees, you may want to consider other options.

Below are some parts of the tree that help litter the environment.

  • Branches
  • Seed pods
  • Leaves
  • Sap
  • Bark


It drops branches throughout the entire year.

Seed pods

The seed balls are also a nuisance if you have more than one tree. The balls have seed pods that break open, sending seeds everywhere when stepped on or through other ways.


They drop their leaves every year. Its leaves turn yellow in fall before dropping from the tree. The American sycamore is a shade-giving deciduous broadleaf species native to central and eastern North America.

So, like other maple species, its leaves are called maple leaves but are not actually from maple trees—sycamores belong to their own family (Platanaceae). The American sycamore leaf generally produces three large and pointed leaves per year, as well as smaller triangular leaves throughout spring.


The tree’s bark also peels off as the tree ages, creating more mess to clean up.


The tree produces a lot of sap, which is sticky and attracts insects.

Citations Used in this Article

  1. Is American sycamore a hardwood? (