Oh, the moon is fair tonight along the Wabash,

From the fields comes the breath of new-mown hay;

Through the sycamores the candle lights are gleaming

On the banks of the Wabash, far away.


Theodore Dreiser

On the Banks of the Wabash







When my in-laws bought a new bungalow in 1928, they wanted a fast-growing tree to shade it from the western sun.  They planted a Sycamore or American Planetree (Platanus occidentalis) in their postage stamp-sized front yard, and, as promised, the tree grew quickly.  They didn’t know that the Sycamore is the largest hardwood tree in America, which will sometimes grow taller than 100’ and occasionally as tall as 150’ (Forest Trees of Illinois, 8th Edition, Robert Mohlenbrock)While the tree did provide instant shade, it was the wrong tree in the wrong place.  Not only was it too large for the space it was in, the huge, maple-like leaves had to be raked up, not just in fall, but every spring, as well, as anthracnose attacked the developing leaves and stems and defoliated the tree.











The Sycamore is a picturesque, massive, rugged tree with a wide-spreading open crown, but its most outstanding feature is its beautiful mottled bark on the trunk and lower branches.  The smooth, greenish gray outer bark peels off in patches revealing a creamy white inner bark, an extraordinarily lovely effect.











It is decorated in fall and early winter with 1” globes of seed clusters that dangle like Christmas tree ornaments from long stalks at the ends of the twigs.


While it is not recommended for growing in tight spaces, it has been planted in parkways in older neighborhoods in the town I live in and seems to do well.


(These photos were taken in February, 2010)






It is even more stunning, especially for winter effect, in its native habitat.  It is indigenous to floodplains, bottomland, and along the banks of streams and rivers, where it grows in the company of Silver Maple, River Birch, Honey Locust, Black Walnut, and Elderberry.  If you have a large property and can meet its cultural requirements, plant Sycamore in view of your windows to enjoy all winter long.

Dick Young says in Kane County Wild Plants & Natural Areas that it is found in the southern half of Kane County, but I live in the northen half.   Quite frankly, I have never seen it growing in the wild.   Have any of you seen it in its native habitat?  If so, do you have pictures to share?


The Miami Indians of Ohio and Indiana soaked Sycamore seed balls in bear oil and used them for candles  (James Alexander Thom, The Red Heart).

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8 Responses to Sycamore

  1. Marianne January 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    Ask June, but if I am not mistaken, there was a huge, county significant Sycamore on property that FVLF had an easement in southern Kane County–Harold Schessler’s property???

  2. Sue January 10, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    East Dundee is full of Sycamores as street trees. They are along the river south of Algonquin and along Barrington Ave in E. Dundee. There are also large sycamore trees in Carpentersville.

    • PatHill January 10, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

      Thanks, Sue and Marianne,
      Mary O e-mailed me and said there are many Sycamore’s at Ferson Creek Fen As soon as it snows, I’ll take more photos.

    • Valerie Blaine January 12, 2012 at 4:34 am #

      Could well be Platanus acerifolia, if planted as street trees. – vb

  3. Margaret Ovitt January 10, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

    I have some lovely sycamores growing along a class 5 stream here in west-central Illinois. They are exactly where they should be. As the land rises to the north of them and the land becomes drier, there are two ancient white oaks.

  4. Valerie Blaine January 11, 2012 at 5:57 am #

    There are several sycamores along the banks of Ferson Creek in St. Charles. They are lovely in the winter – you can spot them from far away.


  5. mike January 11, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    there are quite a few Sycamores growing naturally in my father-in-law’s woodlands in northwest Indiana. Other shares habitat with Beech, various Oaks, Maples, Birch, Hickory. I’ve seen them in the Indiana Dunes State Park, a place that all Chicago-area residents must visit!

  6. Portia Brown January 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Many of the Sycamore’s planted as street trees are actually the London Plane Tree which is a little better suited to the street scene, so to speak.

    Sycamores are abundant here in KY along creeks and other water ways. John Audubon wrote about them along the Ohio river near Louisville- if memory serves me well there were literally acres of Sycamores along the river just north of the city. In the summertime,the city folks would come spread out blankets to take in their shade.

    In early days Cherokee Indians bated their children in the sap- which is also potable water for lost travelers of the frontier. Early settlers would use the hollowed out trees as corrals or even live in them while they built their cabins or set up their livestock fencing.

    I have many pictures of Sycamores “in the wild” but have no clue how too share them here !

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