American Sycamore

Platanus occidentalis

Copyright, Erv Evans, NC State University

Courtesy of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Ardmore, Oklahoma,

The American Sycamore is one of the largest hardwood trees, usually growing 60 to 100 feet tall, but sometimes larger.

They have a large, straight trunk, normally two to four feet in diameter (across), but some have been found up to 15 feet across.

Sycamores have large, spreading, crooked branches, making a wide crown (top part of tree).

Copyright, James Manhart

American Sycamore leaves are palmate (like a hand) with three or five lobes (sections, like fingers). The edge of the leaf is wavy, with teeth. The top of the leaf is bright green, and the underside is pale green. They have a long petiole (leafstalk).

Leaves turn brown in the Fall.

American Sycamores are found in forests, especially at the edges of streams, lakes, and ponds. They like moist soil. They are also used for landscaping, along streets, and in yards as a shade tree.

Sycamores naturally grow in groups with Silver Maple, Red Maple, Yellow Poplar, Sweetgum, and Black Willow.

Like all deciduous trees, American Sycamores lose their leaves in the fall. However, you can still identify them by their bark.

American Sycamores have smooth, whitish bark, which peels off in large flakes. Splotches, where bark has peeled off, can be brown, green, or gray.

Sycamore twigs are thin and green, and they zigzag.

Copyright, James Manhart

Copyright, Mark Brand, UConn Plant Database

The flowers of this tree are tiny and crowded together in ball-shaped clusters. They start out green before turning a deep red.

The fruits of American Sycamore are one inch brown balls which hang on stalks. They often litter yards and sidewalks when they fall, although some stay on the tree through the winter. Some people call them "buttonballs."

Copyright, Jon T. Lindstrom

Copyright, Jon T. Lindstrom

The seeds, which are packed tightly together inside the fruit, are called "achenes." Achenes are dry, hairy fruits.

Achenes, because of their light "hairyness," can travel far on the wind, or float on water, to grow trees in new places.

The seeds are also dispersed (spread) by birds and other animals which eat them and poop some out in new places. They can still grow into new trees!

Some animals that eat American Sycamore achenes are American Goldfinches, Carolina Chickadees, Purple Finches, Mallards, Beavers, Muskrats, and Gray Squirrels.

Copyright, Mark Brand, UConn Plant Database

Mark Moran

Beavers also eat the bark.

Animals depend on sycamores in other ways too! Wood Ducks often make their nests in them.

Additionally, American Sycamores usually become hollow as they get older. Some animals that live inside hollow trees are Pileated Woodpeckers, Barred Owls, Great Crested Flycatchers, Chimney Swifts, and Raccoons.

Relationships in Nature:

Animals Using as Food Source

Animals Using as Shelter

Associations With Other Plants


American Goldfinch

Wood Duck

Silver Maple

Poison Ivy Pa


Pileated Woodpecker

Red Maple

Virginia Creeper Pa

Carolina Chickadee

Barred Owl


Mossy Maple Polypore Pa



Yellow Poplar

Oystershell Scale Pa


Great Crested Flycatcher

Black Willow

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Black Rat Snake

American Elm

Purple Finch

Polyphemus Moth

Mockernut Hickory

Eastern Subterranean Termite

Big Brown Bat

Virginia Creeper

True Katydid


Poison Ivy

Polyphemus Moth

Largemouth Bass

American Holly

Oystershell Scale

Belted Kingfisher

White Oak

Mourning Cloak

Wild Grape

Blue Jay

Lizard's Tail

Virginia Opossum

American Hornbeam

Crane Fly


White-breasted Nuthatch

River Birch

Dogday Harvestfly

Carolina Chickadee

Eastern Bluebird

Oystershell Scale

Relationship to Humans:

Humans use American Sycamore wood for many uses, including furniture, flooring, butchers' blocks, particle board, boxes, crates, and baskets.

People plant these trees along streams to stop soil erosion.

Many homeowners plant American Sycamores in their yards to provide shade. They are also good for landscaping in cities, because they are resistant to pollution.

The seeds of sycamores, called "achenes," can cause skin irritation and respiratory (breathing) problems in some people.


Platanus occidentalis


Organism Menu
Student Activities
Classification Info
How to Use This Site