Leaflit — American Sycamore

Welcome to the first installment of LEAFlit, an occasional column by the Shelburne Tree Advisory Committee about a tree species native to our area. This committee aims to raise public awareness of trees by providing information on how to identify various species.

Committee members will be at Saturday’s Shelburne Farmers Market to sign up volunteers and sell acer rubrum and white pine seedlings.

Note: The information found in the following article is shared with permission from Vermont Urban & Community Forestry’s Tree Spotlight.


American Sycamore

The American Sycamore is native to much of the eastern United States, including Vermont. It grows well in wet conditions on the edges of streams and lakes, and in small depressions with slow drainage. It is a large tree growing 75 to 100 feet tall with equal crown spread, so it should be planted with plenty of room to grow. It grows well in alkaline soils and is somewhat salt tolerant. As sycamores mature they can grow hollow, providing a habitat for wildlife such as bears and birds. The seeds provide food for birds, weasels, beavers, and squirrels.

This iconic sycamore tree is on Falls Road. Courtesy photo

The sycamore has had a long history in the United States. There is record of George Washington measuring a 13 ft. diameter old sycamore in Ohio. The hollows of sycamores were used to house livestock, such as cows, horses, and pigs, and even families would shelter in the hollows while they built their houses. The wood is very difficult to split and so pioneers used the wood that was already hollowed out to make wheels and barrels for grain.

Sycamore was also used in the construction of early railroad cars, Saratoga trunks, piano and organ cases, and phonograph boxes. Unfortunately, many large sycamores were cut down for the resources they provided. The largest known sycamore in Ohio today has a diameter of 11.5 feet.

The big tree program is a national program that tracks and records the biggest trees of each species around the country. The Vermont big tree program is based on the national program using a scoring system comprised of three measurements: height, crown, width, and circumference at breast height. The current champion American sycamore is in Townsend, Vermont, and was last measured in 2009 with a height of 115 feet, an average crown spread of 28 feet, and a circumference of 16 feet 10 inches, a diameter of 5.5 feet.

Common names: American Sycamore, American Planetree, Buttonwood and Buttonball Tree.
Height: 75-100 ft.
Hardiness Zones: 4-9
Leaf: Leaves grow alternately, are 4-8 inches wide, with 3-5 lobes, edges can be coarsely toothed.
Flowers: Monoecious, which means it has both male and female reproductive parts both male and female flowers are small and appear in dense round clusters appearing in May.
Fruit: A sphere formed of achenes, which are small dry one-seeded fruit borne on a 3-6 inch stalk. The seeds are tiny winged, and 1/2 inch long maturing in September or October.
Twig: Brown, gray, orange.
Bark: Tan-gray exterior bark peels to reveal white and olive-green bark beneath.

Leave a Reply

Shelburne News requires that you use your full name, along with a valid email address. Your email address will not be published, shared, or used for promotional purposes. Please see our guidelines for posting for full details.