En EspaŅol

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
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

Locating Rosa rugosa for Massachusetts
May 09, 2006 - There is a shrub that grows out on the Cape especially at the beach. I have always called it Beach Rose and I have heard other people call it a Beach Plum. However, the most recent picture of a Beac...
view the full question and answer

Identification of tree with fuschia berries in Pennsylvania
October 26, 2008 - Northeastern Pennsylvania tree with fuschia berries in autumn. Found one in woods,never saw one before.
view the full question and answer

Identification of alien-looking plant
June 06, 2013 - I have a plant that grows 4-5 feet tall, it has pretty "alien looking" flowers with "pods" under flower, and marijuana looking leaves and smell. My neighbor gave me a start last year, and it has ...
view the full question and answer

Identification of tree with outrageous thorns
August 10, 2014 - Can you identify this tree? It has these outrageous thorns on its trunk. They are in clusters and are anywhere from 1" long to 4" long or so.
view the full question and answer

Identification of red-topped grass blooming in Comal County
May 21, 2013 - I live in Comal County and right now (mid May) there is a beautiful, red topped grass growing along the side of country roads. It is maybe 1 foot tall, and waves in the breeze. Do you know what kind o...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center