American Sycamore Tree

I’m long overdue in highlighting some of nature’s most magnificent sights towering above us.  And I can’t think of a better tree to start with than the American Sycamore, one of my favorites.

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American Sycamores are very distinctive- they are easy to distinguish from the average run-of-the-mill tree.  Perhaps this is why they are a favorite of mine- before I knew how to identify different tree species, this one stood out.

These trees are native to North America- for a change, these trees were imported to Europe, instead of the other way around.  They have ancestors that go back to the end of the dinosaur age.  They are a fairly common bottomwood species.

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Sycamores are very photogenic- I never tire of taking pictures of them

Centuries ago, both Native Americans and and frontiersmen would look for the white branches of this large tree in the distance, which indicated that water was nearby.  Sycamores often will line rivers and lakes, as they prefer moist soil.

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I took this picture of geese flying, but look behind them and see the white trunks and branches of Sycamores lining the shore of the lake

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Sycamores line the banks of this creek

This is a big tree, both tall and wide- it is considered to be the most massive tree in the eastern United States.  It easily can grow to be well over 100 feet tall, and old tree trunks can be huge in circumference.  There are tales of settlers living inside of dead tree trunks used as small cabins, and of frontiersmen hiding from Native Americans in hollowed-out trunks.

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It’s hard to get the scale of the size of this Sycamore stump, but you could easily lay down in it

This old tree in Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park may very well have sheltered people, bears and other wildlife for many many years

The world’s largest Sycamore stump is 57 feet in circumference!  This tree is estimated to have been 800 years old, and a dozen people can fit inside.

One drawback of this massive size and hollowness is that old Sycamores are sometimes blown down in severe windstorms, or struck by lightning.  This can lead to losing trees that are centuries old.

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This starling is nesting in a hole in this Sycamore’s massive branch

Another problem Sycamores encounter is a fungus called anthracnose.  This can cause new spring twigs and leaves to drop off, though more leaves growing later in the season will usually grow out normally.

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The leaves of Sycamores are large, befitting a large tree- I often see leaves the size of dinner plates

It’s not uncommon for Sycamore trunks to divide near the ground, giving a split-tree look.  The canopy often looks irregular due to its large branches.

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Yellow-Throated Warblers are especially fond of this tree, and can sometimes be seen singing from its branches

Sycamore wood has been used extensively for butcher’s blocks, boxes and crates.  The wood is coarse-grained and difficult to work with, so its use for furniture and other fine products is limited.  It is a recent favored species grown for biomass (fuel) on tree farms.

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This tree is often seen in parks- it gives ample shade, and looks pleasing

Curiously enough, Sycamores have both male and female flowers on the same tree, which hang from different branches.  They are pollinated by the wind.

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The fruit are known as buttonballs, which are fibrous seed pods

Sycamores have been called ‘Buttonwoods’ in the past due to their fruit

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The bark has an attractive mottled gray green and brown appearance.  Unlike the bark of most other trees, it is rigid and forms scales on the tree.  It flakes off in the summer as the tree grows, leaving slabs laying on the ground and exposing the white wood underneath.

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In the excellent central Ohio Metro Park system, information plaques are often posted in parks.  Here’s the plaque for the American Sycamore.

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Overall, Sycamores have tons of character, and stand out from the crowd.  Many birds can be seen in their branches.  If you see one of these trees, take a close look at it and enjoy!