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2/22/17- The Sycamore Tree

By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist

The down time between deer season and turkey season is a time of reflection and anticipation. Hunters reflect on what they missed, passed, or saw this past season whilst anticipating what new adventures turkey season will bring. Most outdoorsmen and women also hit the woods in hopes to find dropped antlers or do a little squirrel hunting. It is times like these certain types of trees stand out the most. On my last squirrel hunt, I was astounded by the amount of sycamore trees in the woods. I had never really paid much attention to how many there are in the southeast. I did some research and found some interesting facts about their characteristics, habitat, and uses.

Characteristics

Platanus occidentalis or American sycamore tree belongs to the family Plantanaceae and is also known as American planetree or a buttonwood. This family of trees was originally known as shade trees, but now the Sycamore is known for much more. It commonly reaches heights above 100 feet and has very large, unique leaves. The leaves of the sycamore tree have teeny tiny hairs that cause great irritation in the throats and eyes of many people. The hairs become loose when disturbed and the wind blows them around like crazy, causing allergy like symptoms. Along with the leaves, the bark is also very unique. It peels off in large, irregular shaped sheets leaving the exposed underside of the bark very smooth. The exfoliating bark is usually a brownish-gray color. The exfoliated pieces can be found stuck in the crown of other trees or along the bottom of the tree itself. The trunk of the tree is self-pruning and very cylindrical. The crown is very large and provides ample amounts of shade. The fruits appear to be lime green pom-poms, like what used to be on the back of children’s ankle socks.

Habitat

            Plantanus occidentalis is a tree that is native to the southeast. It usually occurs along streams and embankments but can also be found on drier sites. This tree CANNOT tolerate flooding and does not thrive in swampy habitats. Sycamores can also be found throughout most of Australia and Argentina. Historically, there were many sycamores present in New York and the meeting that started the New York Stock Exchange is referred to as the “Buttonwood Agreement” because contracts and legal documents were signed under a sycamore.

Uses

            According to notes from early settlers and foresters, sycamores were very, very large back in the day (measuring a DBH of 13 feet)! The wood is very tough due to interweaving fibers and components so it is primarily used for butcher block, boxes and crates, and handles for tools. From a money-making stand point, sycamore is primarily harvested for particle board and pulp.

If you have yet to see a sycamore in the woods, it won’t be hard to find. And once you see one, you will be amazed at how many there are out there! I think you will agree that the bark of this tree is really unique. So get outside and see if you have any on your property!

By: Red Clay

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