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The American Sycamore – Largest Deciduous Tree in the United States

The American Sycamore – on an autumnal day

The sycamore on the right, is in front of my  house, and the other younger sycamore is right across the street. They seem to be in a constant embrace. The Sycamore is also known as American plane tree, western plane, occidental plane, and buttonball. Whenever we give friends directions to our house we just direct them to the biggest tree in  the middle of the block.

I did not know very much about sycamores until we moved to this house in Greenfield. I love our sycamore which seems to bend slightly to the left, to embrace her sister. Sycamores are very tall, from between 75-100 feet tall. As you can imagine these trees are not often used as street trees, but our tree was planted in the 1920s when our street was being  laid out. Maybe the original tree people didn’t consider the size of this tree when it was grown. I know there are no other trees this size being planted in town anymore.

The American sycamore has very distinctive bark

The most striking feature of the tree is the bark that has a camouflage pattern comprised of gray-brown outer bark that peels off in patches to reveal the light gray or white wood beneath.

As beautiful as the tree is, there is a problem in  the fall. Remember I said one name for the sycamore is ‘buttonball”?  We are all familiar  with trees shedding their leaves. Buttonball trees shed seed balls, twigs and pieces of bark.  The tiny hairs on the seed balls not only irritate the skin, they can cause respiratory problems. My husband and our neighbor never go to out to rake and sweep up all the debris without used a special mask, goggles and gloves

I don’t do any of the dirtiest work, but I can tell you we spend the fall and winter picking up ‘twigs’ and branches. If we had a fireplace we would never be lost for kindling.

Evening autumn view of Sycamores

I always think of  these two sycamores as loving sisters in an embrace.

View of the Sycamore from the other end of  the street.