Underneath the Sycamore

All, Stories

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of the gloomy browns and grays of winter, not to mention the cold and ice that change my daily schedule and tend to keep me indoors. So on a blue sky day, I rejoice! I can’t wait to get outside and take a walk.

One of my favorite things to see is the super white branches of an American Sycamore tree against the bright blue sky. Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) are easy to find, especially before the trees get their leaves. Stand on a hill overlooking a low-lying area, and you’ll probably see the sycamores lining a creek or wet area. They love water and are often found along waterways. The white bark at the top of the tree is easily noticed. The older bark is layered in a green-gray-tan camouflage pattern and sloughs off to reveal the white bark underneath. I remember the name, “Sycamore” because their peeling bark looks like the tree is “sick.”

Sycamores line the west fork of the Mill Creek at Glenwood Gardens

The trees can be giants, growing to 100 feet tall, with a trunk diameter of 10 feet. It’s one of the largest of the deciduous (sheds leaves in fall) trees in Eastern North America, and it’s hard to miss. It’s amazing, maybe even magic, that this huge tree starts as a tiny seed. From the branches, you will see numerous “balls” hanging like decorations, which give the tree its nickname of the “button ball” tree. Each ball contains hundreds of tiny seeds, each with a fluffy tassel that helps with dispersal. The balls hang on the tree all winter and in spring fall to the ground to spread and start growing.

The heartwood (older, non-living center of the tree) of the American Sycamore is often attacked by a fungus, causing the trees to become weak and hollow. Hollow trees provide shelter and nesting sites for many creatures.

On one those blue-sky days, lean your back against the trunk of a big sycamore tree and look upward through its branches. The bright white branches against the blue sky are an eye popper!

Randi Greathouse, Naturalist Interpreter, Glenwood Gardens