SYCAMORE TREE

It’s All in the Details

Sycamore Tree

 

Everything you need to know about the sycamore tree, from identification tips to typical characteristics; how to spot disease and the best way to maintain a sycamore tree.

The sycamore tree is part of the maple family. It is a large, broadleaf deciduous tree that is native to central, eastern and southern Europe. Now prevalent in the UK, its presence here is reckoned to date back to the Middle Ages. It’s a naturalized species here now and it’s the fact it has become such a popular species is down to the way its winged seeds spread and reseed with great ease.

The canopy of the sycamore tree is one of its redeeming features, and it is one of the most popular trees in parks and gardens for those seeking shade from the sun. The tree will grow anything up to 35 meters in height and has a long lifespan of over 400 years.

Sometimes confused with the field maple tree, the sycamore has a more angular winged seed. Its Latin name, Acer pseudoplatanus, means ‘like a plane tree’.

 

SYCAMORE TREE, ACER PSEUDOPLATANUS

General Facts

(Acer pseudoplatanus)

Sycamore is a deciduous broadleaf tree native tree to central, eastern and southern Europe. It was probably introduced to the UK in the Middle Ages and is now a naturalized species.

Sycamore trees are largely planted in parks and gardens for ornamental purposes 

The leaves measure from 7-16 cm across 

The leaves are palmate in shape and bright green 

The leaves are superficially similar to those of the Planetree

In autumn the leaf color changes to a distinctive yellow-brown 

The leaves have 5 lobes and younger leaves have red stalks

Very small green flowers appear in spring 

The flowers hang in spikes or 'racemes 

The flowers are very small and green-yellow in color 

Leaf buds are smooth and green with orange tints 

The female flowers develop into seeds with wings after pollination

The winged seeds are also known as samaras 

Sycamore trees can be identified in winter by their hairless twigs

The twigs are pink-brown in color and hairless 

When young the bark is a dark pink-grey color and smooth to the touch 

The sycamore tree can grow to 35 meters in height and can live for 400 years

Sycamore trees are often planted near the coast as they are tolerant to sea spray 

Common name: sycamore

Scientific name: Acer pseudoplatanus

Family: Sapindaceae

UK provenance: non-native

Interesting fact: the botanical name of sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, means 'like a plane tree'. Although sycamore is an Acer and not closely related to plants in the Platanus genus, the leaves are superficially similar.

A year in the life of a sycamore tree

 

What does sycamore look like?

Overview: can grow to 35m and can live for 400 years. The bark is dark pink-grey and smooth when young, but becomes cracked and develops small plates with age. Twigs are pink-brown and hairless.

Leaves: palmate leaves measure 7-16cm and have five lobes. Leaf stalks of younger trees are characteristically red.

Flowers: small, green-yellow and hang in spikes, or 'racemes'.

Fruits: after pollination by wind and insects, female flowers develop into distinctive winged fruits known as samaras. 

Look out for: leaf veins are hairy on the underside

Could be confused with: field maple (Acer campestre) and Norway maple (Acer platanoides). V-shaped seeds tell sycamore apart - the angle of the seeds is narrower than both.

Identified in winter by twigs are pink-brown and have no hairs.

Where to find sycamore

Sycamore may have been introduced to the UK, first in England, by the Romans. However, other reports suggest it was introduced to the UK in the Tudor era around the 1500s. More widespread planting occurred in the 1700s and the earliest reports of the species naturalizing in the UK date from the mid-1800s.

Value to wildlife

Sycamore is attractive to aphids and therefore a variety of their predators, such as ladybirds, hoverflies, and birds. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of a number of moths, including the sycamore moth, plumed prominent and maple prominent. The flowers provide a good source of pollen and nectar to bees and other insects, and the seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals. 

Mythology and symbolism

There is very little folklore associated with sycamore, as it is an introduced species. However, in Wales, sycamore trees were used in the traditional craft of making 'love spoons'. In some parts of the UK, the winged seeds are known as 'helicopters' and used in flying competitions and model-making by children.

How we use sycamore

Sycamore timber is hard and strong, pale cream and with a fine grain. It is used for making furniture and kitchenware as the wood does not taint or stain the food. 

Trees are planted in parks and large gardens for ornamental purposes. Mature trees are extremely tolerant of wind, so they are often planted in coastal and exposed areas, as a windbreak. They are also tolerant of pollution and are therefore planted in towns and cities.

Threats

Sycamore is susceptible to sooty bark, which can lead to wilting of the crown and death of the tree, as well as a variety of other fungal diseases. It may also be affected by horse chestnut scale insect, which appears as fluffy white spots on the trunk and branches during summer.

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