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Platanus occidentalis

Phonetic Spelling
PLAT-an-us ok-sih-DEN-tal-iss
Description

American Sycamore is a large deciduous tree that may grow 75 to 90 feet tall. The tree has alternate leaves with 3 to 5 lobes and a coarsely toothed margin. The bark of the tree has a mottled look created by the darker outer layers peeling to expose the lighter inner layers. The bark peels off in patches and the whitened inner bark is the most ornamental trait of this plant. This plant is pyramidal in youth, and as it develops it is spreading rounded or has an irregular crown, supported by a few large diameter branches. Branches should be spaced two to four feet apart along the trunk to develop a strong structure. The dominant central leader which typically develops on sycamore usually assures that the structure of major limbs is desirable with little corrective pruning required other than removing occasionally occurring, upright, aggressive branches with tight crotches. In spring, very small flowers mature in clusters, typically one cluster to a stalk. The tree produces a spherical multiple of seeds borne on a 3- to 6-inch stalk. Each seed is tiny, winged, and 1/2 inch long.

Leaves commonly appear diagonally folded along two lines, such that the lateral sides project downwards, turning upward in fall as leaves dry to drop, hence in different planes. Plants in America backcrossed against London plant tree (P. x acerifolia), with these hybrids difficult to distinguish. London plane trees have 3-5 gumballs per peduncle and deep sinuses. The backcrossed hybrids have 2 gumballs per peduncle, often with the lateral one aborting. Sinuses are difficult to discern as to depth.

This plant prefers full sun to deep, moist, fertile soils. It is tolerant of clay, sand, loam, alkaline, and wet soils. This plant has moderate drought tolerance. It is pollution tolerant, has a rapid growth rate, but has numerous pest and disease problems.

Fire Risk: This plant has a medium flammability rating. 

Seasons of Interest: 

     Bloom:   Spring     Fruit/Seed/Nut: Fall

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems:  Sycamore anthracnose is a significant disease that can severely damage the foliage and twigs, often precipitating premature leaf drop. Canker, leaf spot and powdery mildew may also occur. Insect visitors include borers, scale, Japanese beetles, caterpillars, and mites. When grown as a lawn tree, litter from twigs, large leaves, bark and fruiting balls can pose significant clean-up problems.

Quick ID Hints:

  • Leaves alternate, palmately lobed, folded in 3 planes
  • Large, persistent, acuminately toothed stipules
  • Petiole base swollen, hollow
  • Crumbling gumballs of achenes, 1 per stalk

 

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Howard'
Tags:
#cultivars#deciduous#large shade tree#full sun#rain garden#interesting bark#wildlife plant#native tree#white bark#moths#large leaves#tsc#playground#food source#cpp#fire#medium flammability#NC native#exfoliating#deer resistant#children's garden#edible seeds#Braham Arboretum#fantz#spiky#food source fall#food source herbage#Coastal FACW#Piedmont Mountains FACW#bird friendly#food source hard mast fruit#mammals#tsc-t#non-toxic for horses#non-toxic for dogs#non-toxic for cats#audubon
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Howard'
Tags:
#cultivars#deciduous#large shade tree#full sun#rain garden#interesting bark#wildlife plant#native tree#white bark#moths#large leaves#tsc#playground#food source#cpp#fire#medium flammability#NC native#exfoliating#deer resistant#children's garden#edible seeds#Braham Arboretum#fantz#spiky#food source fall#food source herbage#Coastal FACW#Piedmont Mountains FACW#bird friendly#food source hard mast fruit#mammals#tsc-t#non-toxic for horses#non-toxic for dogs#non-toxic for cats#audubon
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Platanus
    Species:
    occidentalis
    Family:
    Platanaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southeastern United States
    Distribution:
    Southwestern Maine west to southern Ontario east to Nebraska south to Texas and east to Florida.
    Fire Risk Rating:
    medium flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    Birds, like the American goldfinch and Carolina chickadees, eat the seeds in the winter.
    Play Value:
    Edible fruit
    Textural
    Wildlife Food Source
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    The American sycamore is moderately resistant to damage from deer.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 75 ft. 0 in. - 90 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 75 ft. 0 in. - 100 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Horizontal
    Pyramidal
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    High
    Texture:
    Coarse
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasional Flooding
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    more than 60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Winter
    Fruit Type:
    Achene
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is a showy fuzzy, long-stalked, spherical ball (to 1 3/8” diameter). They ripen to brown in the fall and persist into early winter. Each ball contains many seed-like fruits called achenes. As fall progresses the balls break down and the seeds fly out in downy tufts on the wind. Achene borne 3-6 inch stalk fruit with tiny winged .5 inch long seed maturing in November and disseminating in late winter
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Description:
    In April, insignificant, small monoecious flowers yellow (male), red (female), appear in clusters, typically one cluster to a stalk. Inflorescence is a pendulous, globose syncarp, solitary terminating on an elongated peduncle that is 3-6" long. Syncarps are hard when young, and crumb apart when they mature.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Cream/Tan
    Leaf Type:
    Compound (Pinnately , Bipinnately, Palmately)
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Cordate
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Lobed
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves of the American Sycamore are very large, 4-8 lobed, alternate, simple, stipulate, broadly ovate, acute, truncate to cordate, coarsely acuminately toothed, medium to dark green leaves (4-10” wide) with 3 to 5 lobes has coarse marginal teeth. The petiole flares out and covers over a leaf bud at the base. The leaves turn a tan to brown color in the fall. Leaves are floccose-tomentose when young, and become pubescent on veins at maturity. Stipules on young leaves persist into fall, are large, and are acuminately toothed.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Light Brown
    White
    Surface/Attachment:
    Exfoliating
    Smooth
    Bark Description:
    The main key feature of this tree is it has brown bark which exfoliates in irregular pieces to reveal creamy white inner bark. Mature trees typically display mottled white bark that can be identified from great distances.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Buds:
    Smooth/Hairless
    Stem Description:
    Buds are large, conical, acute, smooth, hidden, and surrounded by swollen petiole base until leaf drops.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Recreational Play Area
    Landscape Theme:
    Children's Garden
    Edible Garden
    Native Garden
    Rain Garden
    Attracts:
    Moths
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Pollution
    Urban Conditions
    Wet Soil