Sycamore trees (Plantanus spp.), also called plane trees, are plants for large spaces, since they can rise to 100 feet with a matching canopy spread. Canopy shapes can be round, oval or umbrella-shaped. Several species of sycamore are native to North America, Europe and Asia, and interspecific hybrids and cultivars are also widely used. Trees are used for shade and for the appealing colors and textures of the white, mottled bark.
1. American Sycamore
This native giant occurs throughout the Eastern and Midwestern U.S., preferring floodplains, riparian areas and old fields. American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is used for shade and timber. It is fast growing, reaching 100 feet tall and as wide, and needs deep, rich soils to grow well. Its size makes it unsuitable for home landscaping, and it is best used in parks and large-scale plantings. Trees have many-seeded, ball-shaped fruits and large, lobed leaves that turn brown in the fall. American sycamore grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9.
2. Western Sycamores
California sycamore (Platanus racemosa) grows throughout California in riparian areas and is used in large-scale civic and public areas rather than home landscaping, since it reaches 80 feet tall. It has either single or multiple trunks covered with gray or brown bark in older trees. Upper branches have the typical thin white bark that peels to show mottled areas of tan, brown and whitish colors. It is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 10. Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii, sometimes Platanus racemosa ssp. wrightii) is native to riparian areas of Arizona. Its size depends on how much water is available. It usually grows to 50 feet tall, but it can reach 80 feet with a less than equal spread. It is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 11.
3. London Plane Tree
London plane tree (Platanus x hispanica, also Platanus x hybrida) is a hybrid between American sycamore and Oriental sycamore (Platanus orientalis). It can reach 100 feet tall, but as a street tree, it usually attains 65 feet. Native to Spain, it is widely used in urban areas because it tolerates smog and can be pruned to keep it to size. "Bloodgood" London plane tree is resistant to the fungus diseases anthracnose and verticillium, which can be a problem in sycamores. Like the parent species, it is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8. "Liberty" London plane tree has a spreading habit with drooping branches, growing in USDA zones 4 through 8. Both cultivars grow to 65 feet. London plane tree is used in home landscaping as a specimen or shade tree, and in street and buffer strip plantings.
4. Oriental Plane Tree
Oriental plane tree is native to the Mediterranean area and western Asia. It is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 9. The tree is capable of reaching 120 feet tall, but usually grows in the range of between 60 and 80 feet tall. It grows best in rich, consistently moist soils. Like other sycamores, fallen bark, leaves, fruits and twigs can pose a litter problem, and roots can buckle sidewalks and pavement. It has more deeply lobed leaves than other sycamores. The cut leaf Oriental plane tree (Platanus orientalis var. digitata), has more deeply lobed leaves, but is otherwise similar to the parent species.
- United States Forest Service: Platanus Occidentalis L.
- University of Missouri Extension: Selecting Landscape Plants -- Shade Trees: American Sycamore or Plane Tree (Platanus Occidentalis)
- California Polytechnic University: American Sycamore
- Arbor Day Foundation: Sycamore, California Platanus Racemosa
- Arizona State University Extension: Platanus Wrightii
- California Polytechnic University: Arizona Sycamore
- Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation: London Plane Tree
- California Polytechnic University: London Plane Tree
- California Polytechnic University: Bloodgood London Plane Tree
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Platanus Orientalis
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