The American Sycamore, also known as Platanus occidentalis, American planetree, occidental plane, buttonball, and buttonwood is part of the Platanus species and is native to eastern and central United States but can be found in southern Ontario and Northern Mexico. The sycamore is one of the oldest species of trees on Earth and is known for their durability and hardiness as well as their massive size. There are ten different species of sycamores, which all share similar characteristics. The sycamore can be characterized by its bark which tends to flake off which leaves a collage of creamy white, green, gray and brown on the trunk. Sycamores overgrow, more than two feet a year, and can grow up to 40-100 feet high and 3-8 feet in diameter and can live to be more than 200 years old. The fast-growing of the sycamore nature is what makes them popular among those who want the benefits of a large tree sooner rather than later.
The dynamic sycamore can be in wetland areas as well as city environments as it is very tolerant of urban pollutants. Overall, the sycamore is easy to grow and can grow in any soil. However, it tends to grow best in well-drained, medium to wet soils in full sun. Its hardiness zones are Zone 4, Zone 5, Zone 6, Zone 7, Zone 8 and Zone 9. They tend to grow best and reach their largest size when planted along streams, rivers, and floodplains. The California sycamore has a favorable fire resistance rating and can tolerate high heat and wind. They can withstand both hot and cold climates, providing optimal shade with their leaves during sunny summer days and warm sun through the bare branches on cold winter days. In the fall, their leaves turn a yellow-brown and return as dark green 4-10-inch-wide leaves in the spring accompanied by small clusters of flowers. The male flowers are a yellow color while the females are a red color. The female flowers can produce fruiting balls, which is where the sycamore got the name "buttonball tree," that ripen and fall in the fall. These balls are packed with seeds which disperse as the ball disintegrates. The sycamore is best used as a shade tree in an extensive landscape such as a farm or park due to its large size. However, it is often used on lawns, streets, difficult growing sites and only for decoration due to its ornate bark. It is known to attract a variety of birds, small mammals, and pollinators. The wood of Sycamore is widely used to furniture, cabinets, crates, butcher blocks and barrels. The sap of the sycamore is also useful as it can be boiled into a pleasant-tasting syrup.
There are several varieties of sycamores including the previously mentioned American and California, as well as the Arizona Sycamore and English Sycamore. The Arizona sycamore resembles the California tree and can be found near canyons, streams, and rivers in Arizona. The English Sycamore is a hybrid between the American sycamore and the Oriental sycamore and is also known as the London plane tree. The bark of the English sycamore is darker than others and can have purple tones. The English sycamore has varieties of its own including the Columbia, Liberty, and Bloodgood. The Columbia is known for its orange bark, the Liberty is pyramidal in form, and the Bloodgood is anthracnose resistant and is known to tolerate droughts better than others. Although the sycamore has several varieties, they are all sure to be a durable, low maintenance tree that will last beyond your lifetime and will be seen by generations to come.