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PlantFiles: Sycamore, Buttonwood, American Sycamore, American Planetree
Platanus occidentalis

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Family: Platanaceae
Genus: Platanus (PLAT-an-us) (Info)
Species: occidentalis (ok-sih-den-TAY-liss) (Info)

9 vendors have this plant for sale.

13 members have or want this plant for trade.

Category:
Trees

Height:
over 40 ft. (12 m)

Spacing:
over 40 ft. (12 m)

Hardiness:
USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 C (-30 F)
USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 C (-25 F)
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 C (-20 F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 C (-15 F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun
Sun to Partial Shade

Danger:
N/A

Bloom Color:
Red

Bloom Time:
Mid Spring
Late Spring/Early Summer

Foliage:
Deciduous

Other details:
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Soil pH requirements:
5.1 to 5.5 (strongly acidic)
5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:
Non-patented

Propagation Methods:
From softwood cuttings
From semi-hardwood cuttings
From hardwood cuttings
From hardwood heel cuttings
Allow cut surface to callous over before planting
From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall
From seed; winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse
From seed; stratify if sowing indoors
From seed; sow indoors before last frost
From seed; direct sow after last frost
From seed; germinate in a damp paper towel
From seed; germinate in vitro in gelatin, agar or other medium
Scarify seed before sowing
By grafting
By budding
By simple layering
By air layering
By tip layering
By serpentine layering
By stooling or mound layering

Seed Collecting:
Allow pods to dry on plant; break open to collect seeds
Wear gloves to protect hands when handling seeds

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There are a total of 27 photos.
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Profile:

12 positives
11 neutrals
6 negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

RatingAuthorContent
Neutral villandra On May 11, 2014, villandra from Austin, TX wrote:

If sycamore trees are self pruning and always drop branches before they can die and then the dead branches just sit there, I'd suggest collecting seeds from the one at Georgian and Fawnridge in North Austin. 9103 Fawnridge comes up when you click on the house in Google Maps. In street view the tree comes up. Now Google must have visited in fall, because at the moment the tree has healthy bright green leaves on all the living branches.

When I first saw it I didn't know what kind of tree it was, and thought that the fact that something clearly ate most of its bark accounted for the extensive dead branches. (The bark normally looks like that.)

This is the first time in my life I have ever seen a Sycamore tree, and I don't see what the issue is with their leaves. I wondered it it were a kind of maple tree, because only the lack of lobes differentiates the leaves from what maple leaves look like. Now, from the Google Earth photo, clearly the leaves aren't as pretty as a maple's in the fall, but they aren't bigger. I've yet to see leaves that don't have to all be swept up and bagged the day after Christmas - or the following summer. I suppose if one is used to Mountain Cedar and Live Oak one might growse at sycamore.

This tree must have lost the gene for self-pruning.

I suggest that for trees that drop branches, keeping it pruned is likely to help. That is a chore to be sure, but I don't know anyone who has trees in Austin who doesn't periodically have to trim them away from the house and hte power lines.

I am wondering if they're a smart tree to have any place inclined to wind storms, just like hackberry trees, which tend to get so big and then blow right over.

Now, for an UGLY tree, try pecan. Highly allergenic, long stringy droppy leaves, and the trees themselves have no shape. DEFINITELY an ugly, useless tree.

Negative jungle_of_palms On Apr 7, 2014, jungle_of_palms from Clearwater, FL (Zone 10a) wrote:

Pros:
-Depending on the region of North America, this may be the best native 'last resort' tree for surviving in a dense, polluted urban environment. New Haven, CT for example, has many sycamores as street trees, being out-competed in uncontrolled areas by only Ailanthus.
-Interesting, peeling bark.

Cons:
-Still not a great street tree, although it is among the hardiest, it will drop large branches (often live ones) onto cars and pedestrians below.
-The leaves are large, thick, and begin to turn brown and fall off long before any other tree in many areas.
-Those leaves, by the way, seem to take forever to decompose. Leaves that dried up in late July are still blowing around the following April, making a long term mess.
-The ones around here where I live stink like rotting beef mixed with armpit. The male flowers seem to be the most offensive parts.

Conclusion:
If you want a big, ugly, smelly, dangerous tree, that doesn't mind car exhaust, this is the one for you.

Negative victorengel On Nov 18, 2011, victorengel from Austin, TX wrote:

Contrary to the previous comment about branches, although I don't typically see dead branches on trees, I've seen way too many incidents of living branches breaking off trees. These are sometimes very large and potentially very damaging when they fall. This seems to be an issue here in Austin at least, more than any other tree I've seen. Other trees will drop dead branches. This one drops live branches. Yikes.

Positive Gardeningman On Nov 15, 2010, Gardeningman from Kingman, KS wrote:

I love the American Sycamore tree. It is a very, very good tree. The reason why it drops twigs, is because it is self pruning. You never see a dead branch in a Sycamore tree, which is one of the reasons why it looks so beautiful. I often see dead branches in elms, maples, and oaks. Their dead branches persist and usually need to be mechanically removed.
Someone earlier made the comment that these trees die after 100 years old. This is not true. Sycamore trees can live to over 500 years old.
For those who complain about the leaves, my suggestion to you is don't plant any tree except for the Bald Cypress, because all trees produce leaves that need to be raked except for the Bald Cypress.
A few people made the comment that the American Sycamore lost its leaves early. I haven't seen that as a problem in my area of Kansas. Elms, sugar maples and some red maples lose their leaves before the Sycamores do.
And as far as anthracnose goes, where I live the Sycamores don't appear to have a problem with it. I read on a Colorado State website that if the temperature is above 52 degrees when the leaves begin to shoot out then anthracnose isn't a threat.
Not only is the Sycamore a very fast-growing tree (even faster than the Silver maple) but it provides a great deal of shade. And because of the tall trunk and high branches, sun-loving grasses, such as Bermuda can thrive under it.
And you don't have to wait 20-30 years to enjoy a good deal of shade like you have to do with oak trees.
Well, there's my take on the American Sycamore. It is indeed one of my favorite trees.

Positive ktdid2840 On Sep 16, 2010, ktdid2840 from Glenview, IL wrote:

Zone 5 encourages late leaf-out for the Sycamore. It is the perfect tree to under plant with early spring bulbs and plants. The red peonies passed down to me from my mother have thrived under the sycamore tree for twenty years even though they are in deep shade for most of the summer! The red tulips nestled among the hosta, forsythia and kerria are also gorgeous in the spring under the tree. Closer to the drip line I planted a rhododendron five years ago. It gets bigger and more beautiful each year. This tree is a beauty and worth the trouble of picking up a few twigs!

Positive bobsgirl On Sep 14, 2010, bobsgirl from Lincoln, NE (Zone 5b) wrote:

I have a 40 yr. old Sycamore in my front yard. I love it. It is a beautiful tree, the bark is so unique and pretty. The twigs that fall are always interesting, they have much different characteristics than most tree branches. I will admit that it can be messy, but what tree isn't? It really doesn't take very long to go out and pick up after it. I think the leaves are cool too. I have always loved the scent Sycamores have, especially in the spring and summer after it rains.

Neutral Clary On Sep 14, 2010, Clary from Lewisburg, PA (Zone 6b) wrote:

There are many sycamores in the Pennsylvania river valley where I live. The best planted specimens are in large open spaces such as cemeteries and campuses.

These grow naturally in corridors along the river and along highways but rarely seem to be healthy and able to obtain their natural form. Perhaps the tree's native habitat is frequently adapted to farmland and housing.

There are a few of these planted in the downtowns here and they seem to be a poor choice. They are out of scale (too large) for the narrow streetscapes of our region where trees are usually planted within 6-12 feet of the houses. The roots frequently damage the sidewalks. They drop quite a bit of bark and their seed balls are messy as well. The leaves blow around due to their large size and do not pile up nicely for collection. This "behavior" can be difficult to manage in an urban setting.

Rarely do I see a sycamore planted at newer homes where space is available; shrubby plants and smaller trees seem to be preferred.

This is one of my favorite trees due to its noble appearance and one of the most beautiful native trees of North America.

Siting the tree seems to be crucial, but if the site is right, no maple, oak or pine tree can compete with the majesty of a sycamore.

Positive cfbloom On Sep 13, 2010, cfbloom from Marengo, IL wrote:

All the complaints about the sycamore may be true, but they can also be positive.
I was attempting to convert an overused pasture back into a woodlot here in northern Illinois. Most of the topsoil was eroded by cattle and few of what I consider to be quality hardwood and pine trees would grow. The reforestation started with box elder, silver maple, alder & locust that provided some shelter and shade for the hardwood seedlings that are native in our area.
Then I discovered that sycamore (also native) likes the clay just fine. It tolerates bone dry hard pan clay, but will grow fastest in the lower, swampy areas. It will grow taller and faster than cottonwood. I've removed the cottonwood and replaced it with sycamore in the wet areas.
The biggest enemy of trees, especially seedlings is grass & weeds. The large, slowly decomposing leaves of the sycamores snuff out the grass, making it possible for the oaks, hickories, ash, cherry, rock maple, white pine, etc. to take hold & flourish.
Walnut will also grow (slowly) on this poor soil, but it looses it leaves before the sycamores and does not leaf out until after the sycamores and does not provide the adequate shade required for starting the other hardwoods.

Neutral katpages On Sep 13, 2010, katpages from Thornton, PA wrote:

We have 3 beautiful Sycamores along the front of our cottage that are about 90 years old. From personal experience, I would NEVER intentinally plant them, but they are ours, so we enjoy their beauty and make the best of them...the twigs and branches that fall frequently make great kindling...I have also bulit an attractive stick wall curving around my large bed of vinca surrounding one of them. We gather their bark and use it for pathways and mulch. Like someone mentioned, they are the last trees to get their leaves in the Spring and the first ones to lose them in the fall. Some of them are as big as as a foot across. The balls make a dirty and irritating dust. We are constantly cleaning off our car. These trees are for large properties away from garden beds. If it weren't for their beauty, I would give them a "Negative".

Positive roses39 On Sep 13, 2010, roses39 from Center, TX wrote:

if you are intrested in this tree, ignore the negative comments. My place is inherited from family . there was a huge Sycamore about 100 years in age in the front area. At 100 years they tend to die. In the interval tho, they are awesome, and a joy. The fresh late sprinf foliage against the darker earlier foliage is wonderful. The sheets of shed bark made wonderful plates and platters for my playhouse as a child and the seed balls were wonderful amo in the fall for when all the kids came in for holidays. It is a majestic tree. Mama had me rake the fall leaf for putting on top of the sweet potato cover and for putting over tender bulb areas. Iby spring they were a lacy remnant of last summer. ALL trees that drop their leaf cover in the fall can be a mess for those who just cannot tolerate a leaf on the lawn.As for me, I welcome them. They are the mulch the land thrives on. the root base has sprouted another from my Grandmothers tree. I am delighted to have it. Elaine in Texas

Negative alzone7 On Sep 13, 2010, alzone7 from Gadsden, AL wrote:

This is a beautiful tree -- way down at the edge of some woods, but NOT in a yard. All summer and fall it drops lots of big curly leaves that blow into the neighbor's yards and just lie there for weeks if no one cleans them up. It's also very weak wood because of the rapid growth, and big limbs will break off, not to mention lots of sticks that fall all the time. A local nursery owner talked us into planting one in our front yard years ago and I still haven't forgiven him. ;-) After years of cleaning up the mess from our yard and the neighbors', we finally shelled out the money to have it cut down and planted a nice willow oak that has served us much better.

Negative Laura07631 On Sep 13, 2010, Laura07631 from Englewood, NJ (Zone 6b) wrote:

The Sycamore is considered a hardy city tree and is planted all over the streets of New York City. It is indeed messy but what I dislike most about it is that it is the last to leaf out in the spring and then starts turning brown and dropping leaves in late summer/early fall. Since trees are supposed to add beauty (and air filtering) to city streets, why choose one with such a short green season?

Positive localyokel On Sep 13, 2010, localyokel from Belleview, FL wrote:

Growing up we had a sycamore in the front yard in NE Ohio and now living in central Florida I have a very very tall one in my side yard. I knew going in that it was considered a messy tree. Yes, it sheds bark and yes, it drops a lot of leaves...But - during the summer it's tall large canopy of leaves keeps the house and porch lovely and cool. It makes it all worthwhile!

Neutral oldleander On Sep 13, 2010, oldleander from Huntingdon, PA wrote:

A beautiful tree, but the roots will wreck havoc with sidewalks and lawns!

Negative mrs_colla On Feb 29, 2008, mrs_colla from Marin, CA (Zone 9b) wrote:

Where we live this tree drops huge leaves all year round, except in winter when it is bare. It never looks fresh and healthy.
Ugly leaves get everywhere and are hard to pick up and they take for ever to decompose when left in a flowerbed.
I don't have this tree but my neighbour does.

Positive Malus2006 On Nov 18, 2006, Malus2006 from Coon Rapids, MN (Zone 4a) wrote:

I didn't know that American Sycamore were hardy to zone 4 at all - every book say it is zone 5 even though a few hints at they were once native to far southeast part of Minnesota until my Woody Landscape Class and my teacher took the class to a house near the St. Paul Campus and there was one huge tree growing just fine and my jaw dropped. They are very commonly planted in zone 5 and 6.

Neutral Idiopath On May 28, 2006, Idiopath from Austin, TX wrote:

The house I bought last year came with a large sycamore in the front yard, likely 50+ years old. It's a great shade tree, and I'm sure it helps to keep my house and yard a bit cooler, but it's been shedding sheets of bark all over the place.

Negative raisedbedbob On Feb 1, 2006, raisedbedbob from Walkerton, VA (Zone 7a) wrote:

I tried planting two Sycamores with no success. Each summer they became infected with Powdery Mildew. While not a fatal fungus infection, it sure made the leaves look awful. I finally got tired of wasting money on fungicides and I removed them from the landscape.

Positive rochha On Aug 5, 2005, rochha from Owings, MD wrote:

This tree does have a sweet smelling scent especially on hot sunny humid days, smells sort of like sweet human sweat. I only noticed it when I started to grow some seedlings, Then I smelled their leaves and noticed it, It is not a strong smell but it is there, if you are near a Sycamore see if you can smell it. get downwind of the tree. Also it's seedlings leaves do not have that classic Maple leaf shape, I noticed I have never seen a Sycamore tree smaller than 5 feet, so I grew some seedlings to see why, it's cause they look totally different than the adult. Their are more fan shaped.

Neutral escambiaguy On Apr 2, 2005, escambiaguy from Atmore, AL (Zone 8b) wrote:

These are very large stately trees. Because of their extensive root system, they are very windfirm. However it's a shame they have a problem with anthracnose. It kills off new growth in the spring which creates a "witch's broom" of new growth afterwards and makes the tree look sort of deformed.

Neutral kayaker On Jan 22, 2005, kayaker from Milton, VT (Zone 4a) wrote:

A bit of caution to those who wish to collect seeds from the seed balls:

The tiny hairs on the fruit clusters can irritate the skin and, if inhaled, the respiratory passage. The chaff and dust generated during processing of fruits to extract the seeds is dangerous, and people who do this must wear protective masks. Sometimes the growing roots can clog sewers and damage sidewalks, and fallen leaves can clog drains. American sycamore is a fast growing tree. Don't plant it too close to buildings and utility lines!

Positive TREEHUGR On Dec 22, 2004, TREEHUGR from Now in Orlando, FL (Zone 9b) wrote:

The mighty sycamore as I call it, is a FL native to mostly the upper left hand side of the state but they are growing successfully much farther south. I have seen them as far as palm beach county and I have seen them growing in what looks like pure sand along the river in brevard county. Older sycamores have been found with hollow trunks. (think Winnie The Pooh's home) If you're looking for fast shade, plant a mighty sycamore. Although they have a reputation for not being such great trees in storms, all the sycamores in my area survived the recent hurricanes with flying colors.

Positive rjyellow On May 30, 2004, rjyellow from Circle Pines, MN wrote:

I have found almost 300 sycamores growing in the St. Paul / Minneapolis Minnesota area. The winter hardiness of sycamores in this area of the country is questionable. Yet, a large portion of these 300 trees, have to be 40 to 50 years old. I have tried over and over to find these trees in the area nurseries for purchase, but with no luck. I can only wonder where these sycamores came from that are now growing so magnificently in Minnesota.

Neutral melody On Apr 16, 2004, melody from Benton, KY (Zone 7a) wrote:

These trees can grow to great size in my area. most are found in the wild along creek and river banks. Most folk hesitate to plant them in their yards because of the large leaves, seed balls and shedding bark that has to be cleaned up.

They are hardy and quite beautiful and stand out in a landscape.

Positive Monocromatico On Feb 8, 2004, Monocromatico from Rio de Janeiro
Brazil (Zone 11) wrote:

I saw American Sycamores in Caxambu, a rather cold town north of here, planted along the margins of a river in the city park. These were planted in the middle of 19th century, and didnt grow very much since then. The white trunk and foliage were gorgeous.

I dont know, but when I walked near those trees I sensed a sweet scent. I dont know if it came from the trees, or the water.. I dont know.

Neutral dogbane On Feb 8, 2004, dogbane from New Orleans, LA (Zone 9a) wrote:

This tree is sometimes used along streets because of its ability to withstand, and even thrive in, harsh environments. The only drawback I see is the huge number of large leaves it drops in the Fall. I don't mind the clean up, but others do. The one on my block is in front of my neighbor's house and it takes the two of us to keep up with the leaves. Small branches and twigs are brittle and fall ofen in even moderate winds.

Positive htop On Feb 8, 2004, htop from San Antonio, TX (Zone 8b) wrote:

San Antonio, Tx.)
The American sycamore is sometimes confused with the several other trees in the same genus which are similar in appearance. If the tree has single seedpods, it is an American sycamore. If there are two seedpods together, it is a London planetree (Platanus X acerfolia). If there are 3-5 seedpods, it is an Oriental planetree (P. orientalis) which has the seedpods hanging like beads. All three have lobed maple-like leaves, but each is slightly different. American sycamore's leaf lobes are wider than long. London planetree's leaf lobes are about as wide as they are long. Oriental planetree's leaf lobes that are much longer than wide and deeply incised. London planetree is a hybrid between the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) and the oriental planetree.

Each has thin bark that flakes which gives the trunks a mottled appearance with irregular brown, gray, white and green patches. The trunk at the bottom can look differently than the where the bark is mottled especially if the trunk is old. When the leaves drop in fall and winter, the exposed bark and the seedpods add interest to the landscape.

My tree was planted on an incline with very little soil and solid limestone beneath it. It grew rapidly into a beautiful shade tree. Obviously, it received enough water from the frequent lawn watering. During a severe drought and a temperature near 112 degrees, it did experience leaf drop.

Be careful where these trees are planted. The growing roots can clog sewers and damage sidewalks and driveways. The fallen leaves can clog drains. Also, be careful not to plant these fast growing trees too close to buildings and utility lines.



Neutral Glowclubbr On Sep 7, 2003, Glowclubbr from Silver Spring, MD wrote:

One tree I planted in Kingsville, Ontario in a low lying area with sandy loam soil grew 30' in 5 years. However on dry sites with heavy turf competition, it can also grow slowly. Do not use this tree on dry sites unless your don't mind summer leaf drop. Trees in the long gone old growth forest grew 170' tall, up to 15' in diameter, and lived 500 years.

Neutral mystic On Sep 2, 2001, mystic from Ewing, KY (Zone 6a) wrote:

This fast growing,deciduous tree can reach the height 80 feet and 60 feet wide under urban conditions,but much larger in the wild.The flowers are monoecious,with separate male and female flowers that are deep red and bloom in late March.The fruit is rounded,fuzzy looking, tannish brown and are 1 inch in diameter.The trunk and upper branches are impressively mottled where thin,irregular patches of brown bark that falls away to reveal the white inner bark.Prefers moist,deep,rich soils in full sun,but is very adaptable to a wide variety of soils,including dry soils,wet soils, compacted soils,poor soils.This makes an excellent shade tree in a large area,as a child I spent many an afternoon playing in the shade of the one we had.

Regional...

This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Atmore, Alabama
Gadsden, Alabama
Chino Valley, Arizona
Grand Junction, Colorado
Bartow, Florida
Belleview, Florida
Clearwater, Florida
Eustis, Florida
Hampton, Florida
Keystone Heights, Florida
Ocala, Florida
Port Saint Lucie, Florida
Zephyrhills, Florida
Jasper, Georgia
Marengo, Illinois
Indianapolis, Indiana
Elkader, Iowa
Benton, Kentucky
Clermont, Kentucky
Frankfort, Kentucky
Georgetown, Kentucky
Hebron, Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky
Louisville, Kentucky
Nicholasville, Kentucky
Paris, Kentucky
Versailles, Kentucky
Mount Airy, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
Vacherie, Louisiana
Brookeville, Maryland
Owings, Maryland
Valley Lee, Maryland
Halifax, Massachusetts
Lawrence, Massachusetts
Loreto, Massachusetts
Gobles, Michigan
Chaska, Minnesota
Circle Pines, Minnesota
South Saint Paul, Minnesota
Sturgis, Mississippi
Lincoln, Nebraska (2 reports)
Hawthorne, Nevada
Englewood, New Jersey
Frenchtown, New Jersey
New Vernon, New Jersey
Oyster Bay, New York
Dover, North Carolina
Cincinnati, Ohio
Dayton, Ohio
Glouster, Ohio
Hilliard, Ohio
Lebanon, Ohio
Jay, Oklahoma
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
Schwenksville, Pennsylvania
Thornton, Pennsylvania
Conway, South Carolina
Nashville, Tennessee
Arlington, Texas
Austin, Texas (2 reports)
Bedford, Texas
Center, Texas
Liberty Hill, Texas
Medina, Texas
San Antonio, Texas (2 reports)
Chesapeake, Virginia
Roanoke, Virginia
Liberty, West Virginia
Rosedale, West Virginia
Cambridge, Wisconsin



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