Selecting that special tree that will mature with your property is a big decision. The trees you choose will be with you for life and should bring you pleasure at all seasons. American Sycamore is a tree that will not disappoint. With its unique and beautiful mottled bark most noticeable in winter, its flush of handsome leaves in spring and the graceful shade it will give all summer, an American Sycamore is a wonderful choice when looking for a large shade tree as a specimen or a screen on a large property.
American Sycamore can grow at an amazing rate when young and well cared for – six or even ten feet of growth per year has been seen, but the growth quickly slows down to around two feet a year. So, your young American Sycamore will very quickly grow into a small tree and then slow a little to mature at around 80 feet tall.
Growing American Sycamore Trees
American Sycamore is widely planted in urban areas as it will tolerate air pollution, road-salt and polluted soil better than almost any other tree. It will thrive in the tough conditions that will kill many other trees. Therefore it is an excellent choice for urban areas and is often seen as a handsome street tree. If you need screening from a highway or unsightly view, or if you are looking for a beautiful shade tree for your yard, American Sycamore is an excellent choice.
It does best in moist, deep soils, but will be happy in almost every soil except for very dry conditions. When young it should be watered regularly but once established it will survive and thrive in all but the driest weather. It will not tolerate extended periods of flooding.
Size and Appearance
American Sycamore grows into a large tree, up to 100 feet tall and 30 feet or more across when grown as a specimen. Planted among other trees it will grow a tall, straight trunk, but as a specimen forms a handsome broad crown of large branches. Its most striking feature is the mottled grey, brown and white park, with large pieces of bark falling from time to time to reveal fresh, white bark underneath. This is especially attractive in winter when trees are bare and the bark and twig-structure can be best appreciated outlined against a winter sky.
Pests, Diseases and Animals
It has no serious insect pests but if you live in an area with cool, damp springs you may sometimes see dying leaves on new growth from a fungus disease. If this happens regularly, try to rake up as many leaves as you can in the fall, as these carry the disease to the next spring. American Sycamore is almost never touched by deer, so even if you grow it as a screen you will be able to keep foliage close to the ground. When grown as a shade tree it will soon be above the grazing range of deer.
History and Origins of the American Sycamore
American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is also known as American Planetree, or Buttonwood. It is one of the dominant trees of the original virgin forest that covered eastern North America. Accounts from the early settlers speak of enormous trees – George Washington recorded seeing one in 1770 that was almost 45 feet around, or 14 feet across.
A mature American Sycamore makes a tall tree with a short trunk and several ascending branches. The crown is large and full with attractive maple-like leaves. The trunk will grow to a large diameter and the tree can live 300 years. Flowers are insignificant but are followed in fall by round seed-clusters which give the tree its alternative name of buttonwood.
American Sycamore grows best in Zones 4 to 9, so you can easily grow this tree right across America, outside of Florida, coastal California and the most northern states of the mid-west. It will do best in areas with warm springs and good rainfall. It will grow in almost any soil, but if you have very sandy soil it should be watered regularly, especially when young.
American Sycamore will tolerate some shade when young and will grow under faster-growing trees like Willows, eventually replacing them. As a specimen tree it is best grown in full sun so it develops a full crown and throws a large area of shade.
This tree will tolerate even heavy pruning and can be grown as a screen as well as a specimen. It can be cut hard in winter and will quickly re-sprout and grow very rapidly – 6 feet a year or more – after pruning of well-established trees. For maximum growth-rate a tree fertilizer should be applied.
Planting as a Screen
When planting as screen they should be planted 6 to 10 feet apart. Allow at least 20 feet of clearance from the house and other structures. Dig a hole or a trench two or three times wider than the pot, but no deeper. Place your tree in the hole, replace most of the soil and firm it well down. Then water thoroughly and replace the rest of the soil, being careful not to cover the roots with any extra soil.
Buying American Sycamores at The Tree Center
American Sycamore is best grown from selected trees of good habit and disease resistance. Our trees are grown the correct way, from grafting branches from these special trees. That way every tree is identical to the original so they will produce a very uniform effect. However, these take longer to produce, so avoid cheaper, seedling trees that will only be a disappointment. Here at The Tree Center, we only sell trees that are true to the original form and we have a wide range of sizes to give you the best plant for your purpose. We are constantly renewing our stock so our customers get fresh, healthy plants. For this reason, supplies of this tree may be limited so order now to avoid disappointment.