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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.

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

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Wednesday - August 24, 2011

From: Preston, UK
Region: Other
Topic: Non-Natives, Plant Identification, Planting, Trees
Title: Safe distance from foundation for Sycamore from Preston UK
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What would be the safe distance to have a sycamore tree near your house so it doesn't affect the foundations?

ANSWER:

We are deep in puzzlement. First, your e-mail address was Preston, with "UK" for a state, which gave our website hiccups. But when we looked at your address, we realized you were really from the UK. There are a lot of Prestons in the United States and a whole bunch of Prestons in the UK, but at least we know what continent we're talking about now. Next puzzle: The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, in Austin, Texas is committed to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native to North America and in those areas where each plant grows natively. We can talk about sycamores native to North America but know zip about the ones in England.

We could just say "sorry, we don't do England," but our curiosity is piqued, so we thought we would see what we could find when we search on "sycamores in England" on the Internet. This brought us to the website tree2mydoor.com Sycamore, where we learned:

"There is an ongoing dispute as to whether Sycamore is a native British tree, but is now by far our commonest species of maple."

Our common sycamore, Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore), is of the genus Platanus, species occidentalis. It is a member of the Plantanaceae, or sycamore, family. To us, the Acer genus is from the Acereaceae, or maple, family, which is what the excerpt above calls your tree. According to the link above, the scientific name is Acer pseudoplatanus, which can be loosely translated as a maple that looks like a sycamore, but isn't ("pseudo").

All this still doesn't really answer your question, we have just come closer to understanding what your question is. Since we will not have this tree in our native plant database, here is a factsheet on it from the British point of view.

Now that we know we are talking about a maple, not a sycamore, here is a link to an article on the roots of maples. Our general advice on roots near a foundation is that the roots of a tree will extend out at least 2 to 3 times farther than the dripline or shade line of the tree. Our experience is that maple roots can be very invasive, often above the soil surface, and interfering with hardscape such as sidewalks, patios and, yes, house foundations.

 

From the Image Gallery


American sycamore
Platanus occidentalis

American sycamore
Platanus occidentalis

American sycamore
Platanus occidentalis

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