Description & Overview

American Sycamore is a large native tree found along streambanks, moist woodlands, wetlands, and floodplains.

This large tree is striking, and easily identifiable due to its bark, which flakes off to reveal shades of green, tan, brown, and chalky white. With age, upper branches eventually become nearly completely white. But that is not all. The leaves are large, 8 inches wide or more, and reminiscent of maple leaves, though with shallower lobes. Did we mention these trees grow fast? When sited well, a young American Sycamore can grow three feet a year. A 20-year-old tree can reach 70 feet!

You may also know this plant as American Planetree or Buttonball.

Core Characteristics

Category: Tree

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 4

Mature Height: 70-90 feet

Mature Spread: 80 feet

Growth Rate: Fast

Growth Form: Tree

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Site Requirements: Moist, wet soils. Tolerant of pollution, Juglone, clay and alkaline soil.

Flower: Insignificant

Bloom Period: N/A

Foliage: Emerging gray to silver-green maturing to medium dark green.

Fall Color: Brown/yellow

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Achene

Suggested Uses

As a Wisconsin native tree, American Sycamore has many benefits and is a wonderful option for a restoration project. City parks would also benefit from planting sycamores as they are great shade trees, have interesting ornamental bark, and will attract many forms of wildlife.

This tree can be used near a rain garden as it will appreciate and happily suck up the available moisture.

American Sycamore is best for larger lots. A mature tree would cover an average residential lot!

American Sycamore is a large native tree found along streambanks, moist woodlands, wetlands, and floodplains. 

This large tree is striking, and eas…
American Sycamore is a large native tree found along streambanks, moist woodlands, wetlands, and floodplains. 

This large tree is striking, and eas…
American Sycamore is a large native tree found along streambanks, moist woodlands, wetlands, and floodplains. 

This large tree is striking, and eas…

Wildlife Value

Purple Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, Pine Siskins, and American Goldfinches feast upon the seeds in late winter. Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Kingbirds, and Yellow-throated Warblers will take refuge in diseased limbs.

The large stature and branching habits of the American Sycamore create the ideal nesting cover for birds and wildlife. Older trees will have larger cavities carved out that are appealing to Wood Ducks, Barred Owls, Eastern Screech Owls, Squirrels, and Raccoons. Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, Baltimore Orioles, Yellow-throated Vireos, and other species of birds are known to make American Sycamores their nesting site.

American Sycamore is also the host plant to the caterpillars of the Sycamore Tussock Moth (Halisidota harrisii).

Not-toxic to dogs, cats, horses, livestock.

Maintenance Tips

Some may consider sycamores to be a “messy” yard tree. This is a classic, “right tree, wrong location” scenario. The large leaves, and large fruit may clog gutters if planted too close to the home and leave a mess on cars if too close to the driveway. Although this is a hardwood, it is also susceptible to wind damage, another reason that it should be planted away from structures and driveways. The exfoliating bark, one of the reasons it is such a desirable tree, can also cause some litter near the base of the trunk. All these factors can easily be avoided if sited further from the home.

We invite you to check out the Arborist For Hire lookup at the Wisconsin Arborist Association website to find an ISA Certified Arborist near you.

American Sycamore is a large native tree found along streambanks, moist woodlands, wetlands, and floodplains. 

This large tree is striking, and eas…
American Sycamore is a large native tree found along streambanks, moist woodlands, wetlands, and floodplains. 

This large tree is striking, and eas…

Pests/Problems

American Sycamore is susceptible to canker, leaf spot, powdery mildew, and ice damage.

Sycamore anthracnose is rarely fatal but can cause severe damage to new emerging stems and foliage. This fungus overwinters in infected foliage and spores are spread during cool, rainy spring weather. Given time, the tree will grow new foliage and stems. If you suspect your tree may be infected, be sure to rake and bag any fallen leaves, as simply mulching them will spread the fungus. Prevent further stress on the tree with supplemental watering during drought. Branches can be pruned to allow optimal air circulation which will keep them dry and slow the spread. These simple steps can help greatly. Fungicide can be used with the help of an arborist.

Leaf Lore

American Sycamore is a species of concern in Wisconsin where it is found in the southern third part of the state, most significantly along major rivers.

American Sycamore is the largest diameter deciduous tree in North America – one of the largest being recorded by George Washington – measuring 13 feet in diameter.

Trees can live for 600 years!

The Meskwaki people made an infusion of the bark and used it as a blood purifier, a foot soak for rheumatism, hemorrhages, lung ailments, and as a wash to dry smallpox pustules and treat wounds.

Companion Plants

Plant American Sycamore along other plants that do well in moist/wet soils, including:

American Sycamore is a large native tree found along streambanks, moist woodlands, wetlands, and floodplains. 

This large tree is striking, and eas…
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Written by Beth DeLain