Plants and People Project

Sycamore - Platanus occidentalis

Sycamores can grow to be very large trees with massive trunks. They form a broad crown. They are highly regarded as shade trees. Audubon Field Guide to Trees of the Eastern Region

Called Buttonwood or American planetree, the wood is used for furniture, butcher blocks and flooring. PA DCNR

"In pioneer times, sycamore's toughness made it a favorite for wheels to pull ox carts and for barber poles and wooden washing machines. It rolled along the rails as panels for Pullman cars and slats for Saratoga trunks; it built stereoscopes that helped people see faraway places; and it brought music home in piano and organ cases and phonograph boxes." American Forests

"Found in river floodplains and in bottomland forests. Will grow in soils that flood. These are important trees along riverbanks, as their roots help provide stable stream banks. Because of their height, they provide nesting sites for great blue herons, wood ducks, and many woodpeckers. The huge leaves provide shade in the summer that cools the water for fish and are important in the food chain for aquatic life. They are fast growing and long-lived and grow well in areas with seasonal flooding." Riverside Park

The seeds of the tree are formed in tight balls which hang from slender stems. They help to distinguish this tree from maples which have a similarly shaped leaf. But the bark should be the real clue to tell them apart.

Native Americans used sycamore for a wide variety of medicinal purposes, from treatment of coughs and respiratory distress to dietary and gastrointestinal aids. Campus Botany Tour

The hollow trunks of old trees are sometimes homes to chimney swifts. Animals also use the dense thickets of these trees for shelter and as nesting sites to raise their young.

It is also a host plant for the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

sycamore leaves

close up of sycamore sapling

Sycamore ecology facts

Angiosperm families off site

What tree is it? off site

Identification and other facts / More facts / Further Facts


One interesting feature of sycamores is their exfoliating bark.

sycamore trunk with shedding bark


This extraordinary tree was planted by George Washington at Mount Vernon. Use the people on the right at the base to judge its incredible size.
The photo cuts off about 1/3 of the tree's height!

sycamore at Mt Vernon

The sycamores below are growing behind Independence Hall Philadelphia, PA.

sycamore growing near Independence Hall Philadelphia PA

green right facing arrow. Next Plant green right facing arrow. Plants & People Index

green ivy rule

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Posted 8/11/05 Cindy O'Hora