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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > American Sycamore

American Sycamore

(Platanus occidentalis L.)

  Sycamore, also called buttonwood or the American Plane Tree, is considered one of the largest hardwood trees in North America -especially in diameter. It may be found throughout the state but is most abundant and grows to its largest size along streams and on rich bottomlands.

American sycamore is easily recognized because of its multicolored, mottled bark. The bark on young branches is brownish. As the branch grows, this outer bark peels away in irregular patches to expose smooth inner bark, which may be green or olive but most often is white. The resulting patchy pattern of bark in the branches and upper crown is conspicuous and is characteristic of this tree. In mature trees, bark on the lower trunk is entirely brown and consists of small scales.

On preferred fertile sites, the tree grows fast, reaching heights of 100 feet or more (occasionally 150 feet) and trunk diameters of 10 feet or more. The average height ranges from 80 to 110 feet; the diameter from 3 to 8 feet.

The leaves usually are three- to four-lobed and are divided by broad, shallow sinuses. Leaves are 4 to 7 inches long and broad, with palmate veining and toothed edges. Twigs grow in a zigzag pattern. They are encircled by a toothed stipule at the base of each leaf, where the large, pointed bud is attached. The petiole of the leaf completely encloses the bud -- a distinctive feature of American sycamore.

The fruit is a ball, about I inch in diameter, that breaks up when ripe to disperse small, elongated seeds surrounded by many fine hairs which permit them to be carried afar on the wind. The wood is hard and moderately strong but decays rapidly in the ground. It is used for chopping blocks, tobacco boxes, furniture, interior finish and products such as chip board and flake board.
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