American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

Height: Up to 100 feet; one of the largest species native to the eastern United States

Evergreen/Deciduous: Deciduous  

Lifespan: Surprisingly long-lived for such a fast grower; 250 years or longer

Fall Foliage: Yellowish brown

Range: Vermont to Georgia; east to Texas  

Typical Habitat: Sunny, moist locations; often grows in riparian habitats  

The Eastern Sycamore: Grow Fast and Get Big

Sycamore trees form an important and massive presence in the areas in which they’re found. They tend to sprout up in edge habitats, such as the banks of rivers, where sunlight and moisture are abundant. This, along with the inherent characteristics of the species, means they grow quite quickly. By 20 years of age, they’re often 30 to 40 feet in height, with large, round crowns.

But they don’t just grow quickly – sycamore trees also live long lives. And the combination of these two tendencies means they often reach very large sizes. Many sources list them as the tallest species in the east, but tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera) and white pines (Pinus strobus) are likely stronger contenders for this title.  

Eastern Sycamore Identification: Tips & Tricks

Eastern sycamores are easy to identify, and they are usually easy to recognize at a glance – sometimes from quite a distance.

For starters, location provides an important clue, as these trees are typically found in close proximity to lakes, rivers, or other bodies of water. The tree’s bark – at least on the upper trunk and primary branches – is both distinctive and attractive, so it’s rarely even necessary to consider the tree’s leaves. However, the leaves are easily distinguishable from most other native species; they slightly resemble those of a maple, but they’re much, much larger.  

However, the London plane tree – a hybrid tree that doesn’t exist in the wild – can be tricky to distinguish from the sycamore. The trunk bark of mature trees provides perhaps the best clue: Sycamore the tree’s famous bark pattern doesn’t start until higher up the tree. Additionally sycamores usually bear fruit singly, while plane trees do so in clumps of two or three.

The Eastern Sycamore: Additional Information

Curious to learn more about these fascinating trees? Check out these helpful resources:

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