Sycamores and Maples.

Sycamore foliage Image by Dal.

Introduction and history of the sycamore.

This species in the U.K. and Europe is called simply the sycamore or the common sycamore and in North America the sycamore maple {to distinguish from Platanus occidentalis which is also called the sycamore} .Although common on mainland Europe it was only during the 17th century that the tree was introduced into Britain. The sycamore is in the genus of Acer while the sycamores in North America are placed in the genus Platanus which include the American sycamore and the California sycamore.

 Although introduced to our shores it has found a home where it self seeds readily. It was not planted extensively until the 18th century, when it was planted in large parks and country estates, along with other species from lands far away. This practise heralded planting the species on a far greater scale and the trees became established in the countryside as the decades moved on.

It is another species that grows at high altitudes and only the Rowan { see my hub Rowan a Charming name a charming tree } will be found growing higher on mountains.Studies have revealed that sycamore is present in 14 of 25 recognized woodland types. Sycamores seem to have filled the gap left behind by the demise of the English elm which has suffered devastation due to Dutch Elms disease. The sycamore is a hardy tree which will tolerate cold winds, reasonable amounts of pollution and even salt sprays.

This sycamore is about 30-50 years old. Note the domed canopy.

Image by Dal.
This sycamore is a fairly young specimen probably 30-50 years old. notice the domed canopy. Photograph by D.A.L.

Trunk of the sycamoreis smooth when young then as it matures produces large scale-like plates.

Image by Dal

Basic biology of the Sycamore.

The sycamore Acer psuedoplantanus is a large tree with widely spreading, often with domed , canopies. Out in open spaces the tree tends to be as broad as it is high. In woodland they tend to be taller than they are broad, where they have to compete for room and light. They can attain the height of 20-35 metres.

The bark is grey, smooth when young, older trees tend to have broad, flaky scales. The buds 8-10mm are ovoid in shape with reddish margins, when open the basal scales are red and decurved.

Leaves---are arranged opposite on the twigs 9-15cm long and wide.The five shallow lobes are pointed and the margins of the leaves are toothed. The 5 main veins arise from the notched base. They have long slender leaf stalks. The upper surface of the leaf is of a dull green color with sunken veins, the undersides are pale with the veins appearing more raised. The foliage turns brown in autumn.

The underside of the leaf is pale and the veins more prominent.

Image by Dal.

The foliage of the ornamental maple tree has much sharper tips to the lobes.

Image by Dal.

Foliage variation

There is a great deal of variation in the size of the leaves of sycamore depending on the age and vigour of the shoots. On young trees the leaf stalks tends to be of a reddish colour while on older trees they develop a yellowish-green or even pink colour.

The foliage is often blighted by "Acer tar spot" is found on almost every leaf as the summer progresses. These large black spots are caused by the fungus Rhytisma acertum. Although prevalent they do not seem to do the tree any harm.

Acer tar spot blights the foliage as the summer progresses.

Image by Dal


The flowers are 5-6 mm wide with greenish-yellow petals, male and bisexual in narrow branched drooping racemes{bunches} These may be 6-13 cm in length with 20-40 individual flowers in each pendulous bunch.

The seeds are twined samaras each seed having a 20-40mm long wing to catch the wind. As they fall they whirl and rotate and are often carried man miles from their arboreal mothers. The seeds mature around six months after the flowers have been pollinated.

The wood---the wood of t he sycamore is white and has a silky lustre and is hard-wearing used for furniture and flooring. It is often utilised in the production of scrolls and the backs of violins.

Medicinal---Sycamore for its cooling and antiseptic effects. Preparations of the bark and leaves were used for fever, swollen joints, inflamed eyes, insect bites or simply applied to tired feet. The young leaves can also be added to spring salads.

Maple syrups from Acer saccharin -widely grown in Canada is useful product which is beneficial to human health.

Trunk of the ornamental maple

Image by Dal

The trunk of a mature sycamore.

Image by Dal

Conservationist and the sycamore.

This tree, as much as any other, has been a considerable source of debate which has split opinion of conservationists. Some hate it and others defend it with great vigour. It is a fact that the dense crown stops ground flora from thriving and the soil under the canopy tends to be dry and bare. Others point out that sycamore does alter the structure and thus the eco-system, particularly of birch and alder woods, should it invade such woodland. They insist that the sycamore should be eradicated from semi-natural woodland.

On the plus side the flowers are an important source of nectar for bees and other insects. Aphids are also numerous on the foliage of sycamore thus providing an important food source for birds, particularly when they have chicks to feed. The seeds are eaten by woodmice especially when other sources of food are in short supply. It has been realised that 150 creatures ae associated with the tree either for food or in some other connection.

In any event and whatever your view the sycamore is here to stay.

Reuse of images.

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The pendulous flowers of the sycamore.

Image by Dal.