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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.

6 comments to The American Sycamore – Largest Deciduous Tree in the United States

  • Beautiful trees, for sure! I see what you mean about the “sisters.” 🙂

  • Ian R Lawson

    Yup, I agree that the bark alone makes this the most beautiful, common tree. The intensely fluted bark of the Boxwood tree makes second place, for me; which is only because I passed several mature, fine specimens of both where I walked our three dogs years ago and before we relocated. Ian Lawson

  • Pat

    Ian – How wonderful to hear from you. We are very happy to have this beautiful tree in front of our house. My husband doesn’t mind too much about the cleanup in the fall. He does carefully wear a mask and goggles.

  • Pat

    Beth – I hope we are finally able to be in touch. And glad that you enjoy our Sister Tree.

  • Sycamores are so impressive! There’s quite a few in our neighborhood- my neighbor on one side took theirs out, probably tired of all the debris they drop- but there’s still one to the other side of me. The huge leaves often blow into my yard. I actually don’t mind picking up the sticks (yes I use them as firewood) and the leaves are perfect when I need a spot of mulch for a container or something. If they’re dry, crumble up quickly in the hand. (All the maple and oak leaves from my own yard take a lot longer to break down). When I first saw the trees moving from the west coast years ago, I actually thought the peeling patchy bark was some kind of disease. More interesting to know it’s a natural state!

  • Pat

    Jeane – We are very lucky with our sycamore. There are not many really nice trees on our street. Trees were planted in the 1920s when most of the houses were built, and those trees were not well chosen and are now falling apart.

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