American sycamore, also known as American planetree, western plane, occidental plane, buttonwood, and water beech, is a species of Platanus native to the eastern and central United States, the mountains of northeastern Mexico, extreme southern Ontario, and possibly extreme southern Quebec. It is usually called sycamore in North America, a name which can refer to other types of tree in other parts of the world. The species epithet occidentalis is Latin for “western”, referring to the Western Hemisphere, because at the time when it was named by Carl Linnaeus, the only other species in the genus was P. orientalis (“eastern”), native to the Eastern Hemisphere.

Sycamore Facts

  • Scientific name: Platanus occidentalis
  • Range: throughout the East
  • Height: up to 100 feet tall
  • Width: the trunk can grow to 13 feet in diameter
  • Bark: distinctive peeling bark that exposes a light-gray or white trunk
  • Fruit: spiny round balls with a long stem, known as “buttonballs”
  • Fall colors: leaves turn yellow and brown

You Can Take Care of Trees Like the Sycamore

  • Plant in late fall or winter when the tree is dormant, unless the ground is frozen. 
  • Allow plenty of room for the tree to mature and grow.
  • Water regularly in its first three years.
  • Spread mulch around the base of the tree. 

If Trees Could Sing…

Click here to hear Kim Richey talk about one of her favorite trees. Video courtesy of The Nature Conservancy and Kim Richey.