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Mr. Smarty Plants - Mexican Sycamore trees grown from seed

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Tuesday - November 15, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Propagation, Seeds and Seeding, Trees
Title: Mexican Sycamore trees grown from seed
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

If someone is selling an alleged Mexican Sycamore grown from a seed harvested from a mature tree growing in Austin, is it likely to be a TRUE Mexican Sycamore -- or has it most likely been pollinated by an AMERICAN Sycamore, such that the resulting hybrid has an unpredictable mix of M. Sycamore and A. Sycamore traits? I have wondered because when almost every such tree I've seen for sale in Austin has leaf undersides which usually seem to lack the silvery sheen [or at least whitish cast] and/or the fuzzy underside that I've always assumed was the mark of a TRUE Mexican sycamore. How can I know if I'm getting "the real deal"? Are these trees simply hybrids at best -- and not true Mexican Sycamores?

ANSWER:

You seem a little skeptical which is a good thing.

Lets learn a little more about Sycamores. The American Sycamore is Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore), and the Mexican Sycamore is Platanus mexicana.
P. occidentalis is native to the U.S., but P.mexicana is native to Mexico and therefore is not found in our NPIN Database. The Mexican sycamore has become popular in the last ten years as an introduced ornamental.

Sycamore trees are monoecious, having both pistillate (female) and staminate (male ) flowers on the same plant. However, it is doubtful that they are self-fertile,  ie. pollen from staminate flowers can not pollinate pistillate flowers on the same tree.  The trees are also wind pollinated. Since P. occidentalis and P. mexicana are closely related, it is not out of the question that they are able to cross pollinate and produce viable hybrids. So there is no way of knowing if the seed from which the tree being sold grew was the result of pollination from P. mexicana  or  from P. occidentalis. The odds of the tree being a hybrid seems pretty high unless the seed parent was growing in a grove of P. mexicana.

How can you tell the difference? One character that is easy to see is the the shape of the leaves. The link to austintreeexperts.com  says that P. occidentalis leaves are broader at the base, and will generally have an extra lobe that is lacking in P.mexicana. There are two photos on the link that show this distinction.

These two links from the Texas Forest Service have illustrations that also demonstrate this feature:

    Platanus occidentalis

    Platanus mexicana    mentions the silver underside of the leaf

Your best source of a TRUE Mexican Sycamore is to find one that was vegetatively propagated.

 

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