TREES & plants


A mature sycamore in winter.

The sycamore is a grand, stately shade tree for a larger site. It has broad green leaves but is most recognizable by its peeling bark, with patches of white and gray. Native to the Chicago region, sycamores have very high wildlife value, attracting a wide range of birds that use the tree for many purposes. 

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

Botanical name: 
Platanus occidentalis
All Common Names: 
sycamore, buttonwood, American planetree, buttonball tree
Family (English): 
Sycamore; planetree
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks, 
  • City parkway, 
  • Wide median
Landscape Uses: 
  • Parkway/street, 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Specimen
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Mature Height: 
75-100 feet
Mature Width: 
50-70 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8, 
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Alkaline soil, 
  • Wet soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Prefers
Salt Spray: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Intolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Tolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Messy fruit/plant parts
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Showy fruit, 
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter, 
  • Mid winter, 
  • Late winter, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall, 
  • Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Broad, 
  • Irregular, 
  • Pyramidal, 
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Fast
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
  • Birds, 
  • Insect pollinators, 
  • Small mammals
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

Plants grow best in moist, deep, rich well-drained soil in full sun. Does not tolerate shady sites.
Soil pH adaptable, moderately salt tolerant
Do not grow sycamore near septic fields. 
Can be a messy tree since it drops a lot of leaves, twigs and fruit.

Disease, pests, and problems

Can be affected by anthracnose, leafspots, aphids, plant bug,  scales, bagworm, and borers.
Also susceptible to frost cracks.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity. 
Tolerant of high pH soil.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 9
Native to eastern U. S. along rivers and streams and rich bottomland.
Occasionally grows in upland sites.

Bark color and texture 

Unique, gray-brown flaky scales that shed to expose mottled peeling patches of white, gray, and green. Trees become nearly white near the top. 

Sycamore has an attractive mottled bark.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, 4 to 9 inch wide leathery leaves have 3 to 5 lobes, similar to maple.
The leaf surface is bright green and paler underneath., margins are broadly toothed.
Fall color is brown.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Monoecious, with separate male and female flowers on the same tree. Flowers appear in early spring with the leaves as dense globose balls on long stalks (peduncles).
Male flowers are green , females are showier, bright burgundy-red.

Not ornamentally important .

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

A singular, 1-inch, ball-like seed head hangs from long stalks. Seeds shatter during winter months.



Platanus occidentalis or Sycamore