February: Sycamore

Sycamore trees are among the most distinctive trees in the American landscape. Whether you know the name or not, you have no doubt noticed beautifully mottled gray and tan and white bark on a giant of a tree in a park or a forest or driving along the highway. For me, it was one of the first trees I learned to identify growing up as a budding plant nerd.

Sycamores grow naturally in the eastern U.S. along creeks and rivers and in flood plains. It thrives in frequently soaked soils, but it can also live happily in moderate moisture soils. It’s a quick-growing tree that can bring beauty and shade to the landscape in less time than other giants like oaks and beeches, although as is often the case with quick-growing trees, that does mean the drop debris. They tolerate pollution well, making them a popular urban tree for streets wide enough to handle their spreading canopy. Sycamores are susceptible to a few fungal leaf diseases that can cause them to drop their leaves early, but these diseases don’t pose any threat to the tree’s long term health.

Common Names: Sycamore, American Sycamore

Scientific Name: Platanus occidentalis

Light: full sun

Size: 75-100’ tall and wide

Notable Varieties: London Planetree (Platanus x acerifolia) is a hybrid with the American sycamore as one of its parents, and it has better disease resistance

Soil: average to wet soil, tolerates many soil textures

Other Notes: attractive peeling bark stands out in all seasons; native to the eastern U.S.

See other plants of the month.

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