fbpx Sycamore | The Morton Arboretum


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):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • City parkway,
  • Wide median

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

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


  • Wet sites,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay soil,
  • Road salt

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

Seasons of Interest:

  • early winter,
  • midwinter,
  • 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.



Location of Platanus occidentalis (Sycamore) at the Arboretum