Connected Sustainability | American Sycamore
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Plantanus occidentalis L.

American Sycamore


How to Recognize Me

Eastern North America’s most massive indigenous tree is Plantanus occidentalis L. The signature ornamental feature of this huge deciduous tree is its brown bark that exfoliates in irregular pieces to reveal creamy white inner bark.The large 3-5 lobed medium to dark green leaves 4-10” wide have coarse marginal teeth. Foliage typically turns an undistinguished yellow-brown in Autumn. Female flowers give way to fuzzy, long-stalked, spherical fruiting balls up to 1 3/8” diameter that ripen to brown in October and persist into early Winter. Each fruiting ball consists of numerous, densely-packed, tiny seed-like fruits called achenes. Fruiting balls gradually disintegrate as Fall progresses, dispersing their seeds, often in downy tufts, with the wind, providing food for wildlife such as American goldfinches, Carolina chickadees, purple finches, mallards, beavers, muskrats and gray squirrels.

I Am Special to People

American Sycamore wood has many uses, including furniture, flooring, butchers’ blocks, particleboard, boxes, crates and baskets.

I Am Special to My Watershed

People plant these trees along streams to stop soil erosion.

I Am Special to Wildlife

Beavers eat the bark, and wood ducks often make their nests in sycamores. American sycamores usually become hollow as they get older providing homes for pileated woodpeckers, barred owls, great crested flycatchers, chimney swifts and raccoons. Numerous tales persist about early settlers living inside the massive, hollow trunks or housing their animals inside them.

Why I Hold A Special Place In History

Native Americans hollowed out trunk sections for dugout canoes and used Platanus occidentalis for a variety of medicinal purposes, including cold and cough remedies, as well as dietary, dermatological, gynecological, respiratory and gastrointestinal aids.

The Facts

  • Height: 75’ to 100’
  • Spread: 75’ to 100’
  • Sun: full sun, light shade
  • Soil: medium to wet, well drained, rich
  • Bloom Time: April
  • Bloom Description: yellow (male) and red (female)
  • Flower: small, non-showy, appearing in small rounded clusters
  • Fruit: showy, 1” balls that hang on stalks
  • Tolerate: deer, air pollution Suggested Use: shade tree,
  • rain garden
Noted Trees