Considering its long history as a source of lumber, you might assume the sycamore tree is an ancient species. The Sycamore is one of the younger trees in Europe, having migrated there from its native North America around the time Columbus sailed to the new world. Its rapid spread across the globe has led to several prominent varieties of sycamores, each with different characteristics that make them suited for various climates and uses. We will walk through some of these common types in the post.
Are there Different Kinds of Sycamore Trees?
There are different sycamore trees, and they all have their characteristics. These characteristics depend on where they grow, their native soils, and others.
Many people who live in areas where Sycamore trees are prevalent will probably tell you that there are at least three different kinds. This is true, but it depends on which area of North America they’re referring to. The kind of Sycamores found in New York State looks much different than those you’ll find in Louisiana or Florida.
In America, there are also three different kinds of Sycamores. However, they all look quite similar so they aren’t as easily distinguished. The one kind of Sycamore that is rarely found in Texas is known as Platanus occidentalis and it is what most people think of when they hear Sycamore. Because it’s pretty much unknown here, I will focus on Platanus laurifolia instead.
American Sycamore (Platanus Occidentalis)
A sycamore tree type is an American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). It is a historic tree used as an inspiration for art, literature, and music. From Shakespeare to Louis Armstrong, people have marveled at the bark of this tree that gets described as “peeling paint.”
The American sycamore leaves turn a bright yellow and drop off before winter arrives. American sycamore grows to be very large, and it can live to be up to 600 years old. Its wood is soft and easy to carve, making it useful in some applications.
They are taller than most other types of common ornamental trees. So, the shade they provide is good, and the foliage has more room to branch out into spectacular patterns. It makes them useful for planting along walkways or in gardens where shade comes in handy during hot summer months.
When you take the time to look at one up close, you will see that they are more than they seem from afar. It can withstand the harshness of urban pollution and soil compaction and thrive in compact spaces.
One of its names is the Buttonwood tree because of the button-like fruits they produce in springtime. The American sycamore has other names. Sycamores also provide vital habitats for wildlife during the winter months, protecting birds like robins, and cardinals, or small mammals like squirrels. They take shelter under their branches when other foliage is gone.
Mexican Sycamore (Platanus Mexicana)
Mexican sycamore trees (Platanus Mexicana) grow from 60 to 100 feet tall, with a dense crown and wide-spreading branches. The bark is smooth on young trees and becomes rough and fissured as the tree ages. The dark green leaves are 3 to 5-lobed and turn golden or brown in fall. It serves as shade trees or as focal points in the landscape. They are suitable for planting in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10.
Mexican sycamore trees have shallow roots that spread out from the trunk and make it difficult to mow under them. Its roots do not reach deep into the soil and do not interfere with pipelines, sidewalks, or foundations.
Mexican sycamore trees need full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Plant them where they will receive several hours of direct sunlight, at least while they are young. One can plant it in an area where they will become shaded by older trees, but this should not occur before they reach 15 feet or so.
California Sycamore Tree (Platanus Racemosa)
The California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa), also known as the Western Sycamore, is native to California and found in riparian areas of Central and Southern California. It is a stately, deciduous tree that grows from 70 to 100 feet tall and 40 to 80 feet wide. The trunk can measure 5 feet in diameter, and the tree can live more than 200 years.
The California Sycamore is a fast-growing shade tree. It has a rounded crown, dark green foliage, and reddish-brown bark, which flakes away to show white areas beneath it. The branches have a drooping appearance. In spring, the sycamore produces clusters of small green flowers followed by 1-inch wide balls of seeds that hang like ornaments on the tree in winter.
The sycamore is tolerant of many soils but requires abundant water. It needs full sun or partial shade and provides good summer shade for patios, decks, or playground equipment. Plant it in a large area away from foundations and sidewalks, so it has room to grow to its mature size. It serves as a street tree with adequate space on each side of the sidewalk.
The London Plane is a beautiful, durable, and simple tree to grow. It is tall and has huge, beautiful leaves. The tops of the leaves are light green, while the bottoms are silvery. It has a lovely mottled pattern of light and dark browns on its bark. In the spring, it produces tiny flowers that look like little balls of dust which turn into round, seed-bearing fruits that hang from the branches like ornaments.
The London Plane is in large numbers all over London, but its origins are Spanish. This tree came to England by the British explorer John Tradescant in the 17th century. He gave it to his friend King Charles II as a gift—leading to the name London Plane ever since.
The London Plane thrives in urban environments because of its ability to filter out pollutants from the air. It has many benefits when dealing with pollution removal.
The western sycamore is a type of tree that grows throughout the southern half of California. You can find it in many areas along the coast, from San Diego to Sonoma. The tree can reach over 100 feet and live for 600 years.
The western sycamore is an important food source for many animals. Birds and small mammals such as squirrels and chipmunks eat its fruit. Insects such as caterpillars and aphids feed on the leaves.
Western sycamores are a vital part of the ecosystem because they provide shade and shelter for wildlife. They also help keep water from evaporating from the ground into the air, which helps prevent drought conditions during dry periods.
Native Americans used to grind up the roots of western sycamores into a flour-like substance called “mesquite meal.” They would cook this meal into cakes and store them for later use. The Native Americans also used the bark of these trees to make baskets and other items out of it was very tough. It allows them to withstand how they get carried while hiking through rough terrain without falling apart like paper would do.
The Platanus Kerrii is one of the few species of plane tree that can be grown indoors. It is a slow-growing, deciduous tree that loses its leaves in winter. It needs plenty of light and water but can survive in temperatures as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Platanus Kerrii is easy to care for, but it does need certain conditions to survive. As with most plants, it needs a fair amount of sunlight and water. It also needs to be in an area with at least 50 percent humidity. The tree can grow up to six feet tall if given enough space and time. Else, it will stop growing after three years.
If the branches do not get pruned, they will fall and become coated in the bark. It makes some people think that they got pruned. If you want your tree to keep growing tall and spread each year, you will need to prune some of the larger branches every couple of months when new growth emerges from the main stem in the spring or early fall. It keeps it looking healthy and prevents any unnecessary damage from occurring due to overgrowth.
Are all Sycamore Trees the Same?
All sycamores are not the same, especially in their physical appearance. Sycamores go by their bark, which peels off in mottled layers of white, brown, and green as the tree grows. Beyond that, there are some differences. Some are massive shade trees, while others are small enough to grow in your backyard. Some have beautiful fall colors, while others stay green until winter.
What Does an American Sycamore Tree Look Like?
The American Sycamore grows about 100 feet tall, with broad leaves at the base and tapers to a point (like maple leaves). The trunk can grow up to ten feet wide, making it a popular choice for creating furniture and flooring. It also features a distinctive flaky bark pattern with white, grey, and brown patches.
There is a common misconception that the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is like a maple tree, but it is not. The resemblance to the maple comes from its green, star-shaped leaves.
What Trees Look Like Sycamore Trees?
If you do not know how to identify a sycamore tree, you can confuse it for others. It might be in the leaves or the ball fruit. Sycamore trees are often mistaken for some trees like:
- Maple tree
- Sweetgum tree
- Red maple tree
The maple tree (Platanus x Acerifolia) looks like the sycamore but grows only 40 feet tall. It needs full sun but can tolerate some shade. The bark looks like sycamore bark, but the leaves are not as lobed as the sycamore or American plane trees.
The sweetgum tree (Liquidambar Styraciflua) has five-lobed leaves and corky wings on the twigs. It is about 100 feet tall when mature, but it has a columnar form and does not spread out as the sycamore does. The winter buds get clustered at the ends of twigs, unlike those of sycamores, which are solitary.
The scientific name of its genus, Liquidambar, is derived from liquid amber (styrax resin), due to its exudation of a sweet-smelling, fragrant substance.
It is a medium-sized, large-leaved, deciduous hardwood that grows to be 50–70 feet (15–21 meters) tall and 2–3 feet (0.6–0.9 meters) trunk diameter, often with a short trunk and many slender ascending branches; it is usually long-lived. The leaves are simple and alternate in their arrangement.
Red Maple Tree
The red maple (Acer Rubrum) is another fast-growing species that gets up to 80 feet tall when mature. Its leaves are reddish in spring, turning green by summer and then brilliant red in fall before dropping from the tree. Their leaves are similar to that of sycamores. 1
Regardless of the kind of sycamore you have, learn to keep your sycamores healthy.
Citations Used in this Article
- Sycamore Trees: Leaves, Bark, Types – Identification Guide (leafyplace.com)