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Eastern Sycamore Platanus occidentalis

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

Platanus occidentalis, or American Sycamore, is a large deciduous tree that may grow 75 to 90 feet tall and a trunk diameter of 10 feet or more. It is one of the largest hardwood trees, by diameter, in North America. When siting this tree on your landscape, keep in mind that this will be a large tree for a large space. It is native to North Carolina and can be found throughout the state, although it is more common and larger along streams and bottom land.

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 becomes more rounded with an irregular crown and supported by a few large diameter branches. Branches are usually 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 the occassional 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 were backcrossed against the London plant tree (P. x acerifolia). London plane trees have 3-5 gumballs per peduncle and deep sinuses while 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.

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. This tree is susceptible to wind damage.  

VIDEO Created by Elizabeth Meyer for "Trees, Shrubs and Conifers" a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.

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See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Howard'
'Howard'
Tags:
#cultivars#deciduous#shade tree#full sun tolerant#rain garden#interesting bark#wildlife plants#native tree#white bark#moths#large leaves#tsc#playground#food source wildlife#cpp#fire#medium flammability#NC native#deer resistant#children's garden#edible seeds#Braham Arboretum#fantz#spiky#food source fall#exfoliating bark#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#wind damage prone
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Howard'
'Howard'
Tags:
#cultivars#deciduous#shade tree#full sun tolerant#rain garden#interesting bark#wildlife plants#native tree#white bark#moths#large leaves#tsc#playground#food source wildlife#cpp#fire#medium flammability#NC native#deer resistant#children's garden#edible seeds#Braham Arboretum#fantz#spiky#food source fall#exfoliating bark#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#wind damage prone
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Platanus
    Species:
    occidentalis
    Family:
    Platanaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Wood is hard and moderately strong, but decays rapidly in the ground. It is often used for chopping blocks, furniture, and chip board.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southeastern United States
    Distribution:
    Southwestern Maine to Florida, west to Texas and Nebraska.
    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.
    Edibility:
    Sap is sweet and tapped in the spring for use as syrup and sugar.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 75 ft. 0 in. - 110 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:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    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, 5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • 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 inches 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 to 6 inches long. Syncarps are hard when young, and crumb apart when they mature.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Cream/Tan
    Leaf Type:
    Compound (Pinnately , Bipinnately, Palmately)
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Cordate
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Dentate
    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 to 8 lobed, alternate, simple, stipulate, broadly ovate, acute, truncate to cordate, coarsely acuminately toothed, medium to dark green leaves (4 to 10 inches wide and 4 to 7 inches long) 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:
    Brown bark which exfoliates in irregular pieces to reveal creamy white inner bark resulting in a patchy pattern. Mature trees typically display mottled white bark that can be identified from great distances.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Buds:
    Smooth/Hairless
    Stem Form:
    Zig Zags
    Stem Description:
    Buds are large, conical, acute, smooth, hidden, and surrounded by swollen petiole base until leaf drops.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Recreational Play Area
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Children's Garden
    Edible Garden
    Native Garden
    Rain Garden
    Design Feature:
    Shade Tree
    Specimen
    Street Tree
    Attracts:
    Moths
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Pollution
    Urban Conditions
    Wet Soil
    Wind