American Sycamore - American Plane Tree
Buttonball-tree - Buttonwood
Platanus occidentalis Linnaeus
Platanaceae (Sycamore) Family


American Sycamore is a large native deciduous tree that can be found throughout Alabama. Its preferred habitat is along rivers and streams, around lakes and ponds, and in bottomland forests. It is one of the largest of the trees in eastern North America, reaching heights exceeding 150 feet and diameters of 6 feet or more. The tree typically has a single trunk, but can form multitrunked clumps. The bark is thin, light gray in color, and peels in large papery sheets. The trunks contain a patchwork of older and younger bark ranging from green through white to brown in color.

The leaves are alternate, petiolate, ovate in outline, and 3-7 lobed. The margins are entire to coarsely serrate. The leaf surface is pubescent, becoming smooth with persistent hairs along the veins. The base of the leaf stalk is enlarged and encloses a bud. Stipules are large and have toothed margins. Leaves turn brownish-yellow before falling.

The flowers are produced in dense heads. Staminate heads are produced on axillary peduncles and pistillate heads are produced on terminal peduncles. The heads are reddish in color.

Fruit is a dense ball of achenes. The achenes separate over the winter and each individual achene has a tuff of tan hairs. The seed are consumed by many bird and small mammal species.

American Sycamore is fast growing and is often used as a street or shade tree. The wood is dense but brittle; often used for paper, inexpensive furniture, pallets, and butcher’s blocks. The tree is tolerant of pollution and is often planted in cities. It is available from many nurseries, and various cultivars are available.

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