Sycamore - Platanus

There is some confusion about the sycamore tree. There is the sycamore fig (ficus sycomorus) which is native to the Middle East and Africa which belongs to the ficus family. In Britain acer pseudoplatanus is called by various names: sycamore, European maple, sycamore maple and 'great maple'. In America, there is platanus occidentalis (American Sycamore), platanus racemosa (California sycamore) and platanus wrightii (Arizona sycamore).

The American sycamore is the largest tree in the eastern forests of the USA. It grows up to 100 feet tall and has a branch spread of up to 80 feet. It has a distinctive white bark. Native Americans prized the sycamore tree for its medicinal properties.

From an ecological viewpoint the American sycamore is a valuable species of tree because it reaches maturity in only 20 years, which is quick for a hardwood, especially one so tall and useful for lumber. The sycamore is also a favoured habitat for woodpeckers and wood ducks. A variety of animals including beavers, finches, mallards and grey squirrels eat the seeds or achenes of the sycamore. Sycamores are also excellent to plant along streams to stop soil erosion.

The sycamore was introduced into Britain from Europe in the 15th or 16th century. It has become naturalized and now thrives along the coast where native trees get stunted.

Although some view the sycamore as a 'weed' that dominates an environment it must be remembered that it produces a useful hardwood. Sycamore can also survive polluted urban environments and are good trees to plant to off set greenhouse gas emissions.

The sapwood of sycamore is yellow to brown and the heartwood ranges from light to dark brown. It is even in texture. It is a good material for flooring, although it has a low Janka Hardness rating of 770 (pounds force).

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