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Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore)
Lytle, Melody

Platanus occidentalis

Platanus occidentalis L.

American Sycamore, Eastern Sycamore, American Plane Tree, Plane Tree, Buttonwood, Buttonball Tree

Platanaceae (Plane-tree Family)

Synonym(s): Platanus occidentalis var. glabrata

USDA Symbol: ploc

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

The American sycamore is a wide-canopied, deciduous tree, usually 75-100 ft. tall, with a massive trunk and open crown of huge, crooked branches. The bark of large, old trunks sloughs off in scales or plates leaving a smooth, whitish inner bark. Leaves broadly ovate or broader, blade often wider than long, long pointed. Globular fruits often persist through December. Large, medium- to dark-green, maple-shaped leaves turn brown in fall.

A shade tree, Sycamore grows to a larger trunk diameter than any other native hardwood. The present champion's trunk is about 11 feet (3.4 m) in diameter; an earlier giant's was nearly 15 feet (4.6 m). The hollow trunks of old, giant trees were homes for chimney swifts in earlier times.


From the Image Gallery

24 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Fruit Type: Achene
Size Notes: Up to about 150 feet tall, often much shorter.
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Orange, Brown

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Red , Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr


USA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MO , MS , NC , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: ON
Native Distribution: S. ME to s. Ont., c. IA, e. NE & e. KS, s. to FL Panhandle & e. TX
Native Habitat: Low, moist woods; floodplains; rich bottomlands

Growing Conditions

Water Use: High
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Moist, sandy loams or silty clays.


Use Ornamental: Shade tree
Use Food: The sap of Platanus species makes a pleasant drink. It can be boiled down into syrup, but the sugar content of the sap is low, and the sap/syrup ratio is higher than for other syrup-producing trees. (Athenic)
Use Other: The wood is used for furniture parts, millwork, flooring, and specialty products such as butcher blocks, as well as pulpwood, particleboard, and fiberboard.
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds
Deer Resistant: High


Propagation Material: Seeds
Description: Seeds which over-winter on tree and are planted in spring will germinate promptly. Stored seeds must be stratified. Seedlings are susceptible to damping-off. Sycamores are also grown from cuttings, usually to select for the whitest bark.
Seed Collection: Fruit is most easily collected after leaf drop. Dry heads, then place in bags and crush to separate achene. Store over winter in cool, well-ventilated area in mesh bags.
Seed Treatment: Stratified stored seeds for 30 days at 41 degrees before planting.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Trees that are non-toxic for horses
May 02, 2008
I live in Ponder, Tx. We have some acreage and horses and wish to plant trees to afford some shade for the horses. Can you tell me what trees are toxic to horses.
view the full question and answer

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - Austin, TX
Pineywoods Native Plant Center - Nacogdoches, TX
Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Brackenridge Field Laboratory - Austin, TX
Nueces River Authority - Uvalde, TX
Stengl Biological Research Station - Smithville, TX
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
Georgia Native Plant Society - Atlanta, GA
NPSOT - Austin Chapter - Austin, TX
Jacob's Well Natural Area - Wimberley, TX
NPSOT - Williamson County Chapter - Georgetown, TX
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE

Wildflower Center Seed Bank

LBJWC-716 Collected 2010-01-16 in Hays County by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

1 collection(s) available in the Wildflower Center Seed Bank


Bibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.
Bibref 355 - Landscaping with Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest (1991) Miller, G. O.
Bibref 354 - Native & Naturalized Woody Plants of Austin & the Hill Country (1981) Lynch, D.
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender
Bibref 297 - Trees of Central Texas (1984) Vines, Robert A.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 3 - Flora of North America (2014) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.

Additional resources

USDA: Find Platanus occidentalis in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Platanus occidentalis in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Platanus occidentalis


Record Modified: 2022-09-23
Research By: NPC

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