Buttonball Sycamore – Ours and Sunderland’s

  • Post published:09/07/2021
  • Post comments:4 Comments
Our Sycamore tree

We love our Sycamore, in spite of all the little branches it throws down at this time of the year. A few leaves have also blown down but not enough to start raking. The unpleasant thing about sycamores is that in the summer the sycamore develops fine dust on  the underside of its leaves. This dust is a respiratory irritant which affects some people more than others. My husband wears a mask and goggles when he is raking up leaves and twigs in the fall. That work can be quite unpleasant.

We have been trying to figure out how old our tree is. They have been known to live for 300 years – or more.  We checked the maps and learned that our street existed in 1918 – but not in 1885.  We are not sure if the tree was on the site, or if it was planted around the some time after the house was built. Our neighbor across the street also has a sycamore which is smaller/younger. It makes me think that that our tree was planted on the tree belt longer ago.

Buttonball tree in Sunderland

The Buttonball Tree  (Platanus occidentalis) in Sunderland  is famous because  of its age, estimated to be well over 350 years, and big. It is a leftover from Sunderland’s woodlands and as of November 2019, the tree measured 113 feet high, with a girth of 25 feet 8 inches high at a height of 4.5 feet, with a spread of 140 feet.  The tree is  considered to be the largest tree of its kind on the East Coast. In 1987 a stone plaque was set in front of the tree, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution – and the tree’s great age.

Buttonball Tree

An amazing element of the Buttonball tree is the way the mottled bark flakes off. The tree is always growing and the rigid texture of the bark does not allow stretching to accommodate the growth. There is no elasticity so the tree forces the bark off.

A closer look at the bark peeling

Our tree is much younger so there is very little peeling of this sort.

Henry and the Buttonball tree

Henry posed to give a sense of  size.

Buttonball bark

Near Henry’s hand you can see that the bark is making its discomfort known. Here is a better view.The bark on our tree is looking a bit different, and in general the peeling  is not as vigorous. It is a much younger tree.

Buttonball hug

These trees look so strong and seem invincible, but I was told sycamores are prone to heartwood rot.  Like many of its drawbacks, this, too is a double-edged sword.  Wildlife exploits sycamores for shelter, with cavity nesting birds like chimney swifts, owls, and wood ducks taking up residence. That sounds quite nice to me, but I imagine that ultimately handling a rotting interior would not be good.

Another view of our sycamore

This photo of our tree gives a sense of its size. It looks a little tippy, but I like to think it is merely bending to give our across the street neighbor’s sycamore a kiss.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jon Cremins

    Worth seeing is the ancient buttonball tree stump in Charlemont center near which Captain Moses Rice established his fort and in the vicinity of which he met his unfortunate demise in 1755 during the King George’s War.

  2. Lisa at Greenbow

    What a magnificent Sycamore. We have one but it is only about 15 – 20 years old. I love these trees. I didn’t know about the dust under the leaves. I do know it takes forever for those leaves to decompose. Good for mulch. I had never heard them called button trees. I used to know an indian legend about these trees, ghost trees.

  3. Pat

    Lisa – It is a beautiful tree. I had never heard of ghost trees. I wonder if they have been called that because the autumnal loss of leaves can be bring with it nasty breathing and looking. My husband wears goggles and a mask when he is doing the autumn cleanup.

  4. Pat

    Jon – That tree stump isn’t as old as King George’s War, is it?

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