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TREES & plants

Sycamore

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.

Botanical name: 
Platanus occidentalis
All Common Names: 
sycamore, buttonwood, American planetree, buttonball tree
Family (English): 
Sycamore; planetree
Family (Botanic): 
Platanaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • City parkway
  • Wide median
  • Residential and parks
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Shade
  • Parkway/street
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
  • 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
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Attractive bark
  • Showy fruit
Time of Year: 
  • Mid winter
  • Late winter
  • Late spring
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
  • Red
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular
  • Spreading
  • Pyramidal
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Fast
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
Wildlife: 
  • Birds
  • Insect pollinators
  • Small mammals
More Information: 

Size & Form

A  large deciduous tree reaching  60 to 75 feet high and wide in home landscapes, it can be larger in the wild.
Thick, massive trunks with wide spreading crowns. Forest grown trees have narrower crowns and longer trunks.

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 and drought tolerant
Do not grow sycamore near septic fields. 
Can be a messy tree since 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.
Young plants can be 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.
Occassional grows in upland sites.

Attracts birds & butterflies

High wildlife value, fruit attracts purple finches, American gold finches and pine siskins.
Provides nesting cover to many birds. Many midwestern great blue heron colonies occur in blottomland sycamore stands. 

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 of tree.

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.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Monoecious, with separate male and female flowers. Flowers appear in early springs 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.