Sycamore or less?

At the time mister gardener and I acquired our property, I was dismayed to note that the only shade tree on the river side was a large American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), a pretty ordinary native tree, I thought, that would leave us with a massive leaf cleanup in the fall and an exfoliating bark cleanup and a seed ball cleanup as well.

Found in most states east of the Great Plains, the native sycamore tree can grow to massive heights of 100′ or more and can live 500 years. It possesses the largest leaf of any tree in America, a maple-shaped leaf of three to five lobes that can be a foot wide. It’s a very easy tree to identify on the horizon. The most distinctive feature is the mottled, camouflage-like bark with stretches of smooth, pure white near the crown that stands out in the winter landscape.

An early landscaper suggested we replace our medium-sized sycamore.  I am extremely glad we did not heed his advice for we have grown to know this tree and admire the goodness about it in spite of the mess it shares each fall. The tree has thrived in its location in the center of our yard. In ten years it has grown quite large and it does supply us needed shade in the heat of summer.

The most surprising discoveries for us were the benefits and safe harbor the tree provides our fine feathered friends.  At any given season of the year, the tree is a Tower of Babel for the world of birds.  With my binoculars aimed into the branches, I see families of bluebirds, flocks of finches, cedar waxwings and other birds eating the seeds from the fruits, the ‘buttons’ that hang one from each stalk. Mourning doves, cardinals and all the well-known ‘tweety birds’ species find a haven in the branches of our mighty sycamore tree, including a hawk or two.

Sycamore stories abound in America as the tree has a rich heritage.  Not only was the tree of value to the Native Americans, it was a familiar sight to our westward progressing forebears as they settled near rivers where the trees thrived along the banks.  One book I remember reading years ago, Where The Red Fern Grows, tells of a boy living in the Ozarks in the early 1900’s, whose passion was hunting with his dogs.  I still can picture the scene where the boy chopped down a beautiful old sycamore to kill a raccoon.  Perhaps that distant memory is why I could not chop down our sycaMORE, not less…

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

2 thoughts on “Sycamore or less?

  1. Ann,

    Thank you for your wonderful article on the sycamore. Growing up on Lewis Avenue in the C.H., the sycamore has observed my transition from a small child to an adult. My sentiments have changed over the years from the gleeful youngster who enjoyed jumping in a pile of leaves to a grumbling adult, who deters raking. Your article provided me with a broader knowledge of these majestic towers of strength and afforded me a great appreciation of them.

    Thank you.

    Beth DeHardit Richardson


    • Beth, I’m glad you can appreciate the sycamore a little more but that doesn’t make the cleanup any easier, does it? The leaves are massive! Call me next fall and I’ll jump in your leaf piles! Whee!


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