En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
4 ratings

Monday - July 13, 2009

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Is this a sycamore tree in Houston TX?
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I believe I have a 6 year old American Sycamore planted in front of my condo. There are no seed pods (balls) ever on this tree. I thought all Sycamores have those. Is my tree too young to produce the seed pods? My sister has one, only two years old..and she has the seed pods. I'm happy I DON'T have them (have heard they are very messy) yet..I just want to make certain this is an American Sycamore. Is it possible this tree will never have those seed pods?


Here's what we were able to find out about Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore). It is monoecious, meaning it has both male and female flowers on the same tree, so another tree of the same species does not have to be present in order to produce seeds. The fruit is a ball composed of many closely packed, long, narrow  fruits that ripen by September or October and often remain on the tree over Winter, breaking up or falling off the tree the following Spring. A plantation or open-grown sycamore begins to bear seeds in 6 or 7 years. Natural stands of the tree begin to produce an appreciable number of seeds at about 25 years. The tree usually  bears a good seed crop every one or two years, with optimum production between 50 and 200 years of age.

Possible conclusions:

1. Either the tree in your condo yard is not a sycamore or your sister's is not.

2. Your tree is a natural growth tree and will not begin to bear fruit and seeds until it is about 25 years old, while your sister's may be a plantation-grown tree. It would still have to be a little older than she thinks it is to be bearing fruit, however.

We are going to provide you pictures of the distinctive leaves and bark for comparison with both trees. If you do not believe your tree (or your sister's) is a sycamore, go to the Mr. Smarty Plants page on Plant Identification, and follow the instructions for sending us pictures and description, and we will try to identify it for you. 

Pictures and more information from Virginia Tech VTree ID

Pictures and more information from North Carolina State University Fact Sheet

Pictures from Google Platanus occidentalis


From the Image Gallery

American sycamore
Platanus occidentalis

American sycamore
Platanus occidentalis

American sycamore
Platanus occidentalis

American sycamore
Platanus occidentalis

More Plant Identification Questions

Weed identification
February 27, 2012 - Weeds / Wildflower. I dream of a photo identification for weeds / wildflowers that pop up in my garden here in Austin, Texas. Maybe I don't want to pull them up. How do I know? Do you know of a b...
view the full question and answer

Plant Identification
July 14, 2011 - What is the common purple flower found in fields that has a yellow flattened oval berry like pod after blooming? Leaves are grayish green. I am thinking in the nightshade family? It is a bane to a pas...
view the full question and answer

Plant identification
September 30, 2008 - I was just in Alabama this weekend and all alongside the road-side were these georgeous pink flowers. I finally stopped to pick one and thet are even prettier up close! The stem is smooth and leafle...
view the full question and answer

Plant identification.
May 23, 2009 - Looking for the name of a green, bamboo-like plant with narrow leaves. Have no pictures.
view the full question and answer

Instructions for pictures from Red Bud IL
January 29, 2012 - Mr. Smarty Plants, I followed your instructions on how to submit pictures for you to identify "If you would like to know what the plant is that came up, Mr. Smarty Plants loves to identify plan...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center