Sycamore trees, also known as planetrees, are some of the largest and most massive trees in the eastern United States, with certain species growing up to 160 feet in height. The sycamore family includes the American sycamore, California sycamore, Arizona sycamore, Oriental planetree and London planetree. The sycamore maple is a member of the maple family and not a true sycamore tree.
The American sycamore is known by many names--Eastern sycamore, buttonwood, American planetree and buttonball tree--and is identified by its unique gray-brown bark, which flakes off, revealing yellow and white underbark, according to “Eastern Trees” by George A. Petrides. The leaves, which range in size from 4 to 10 inches long, feature three- or five-pointed lobes, resembling maple leaves. The average American sycamore can vary in height from 60 to 100 feet with a trunk diameter ranging from 2 to 6 feet. This fast-growing tree can reach a staggering 140 feet in height and a trunk diameter of 14 feet.
The California sycamore is also called the Western sycamore and grows to a height ranging from 40 to 80 feet, according to “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees of the World,” by Tony Russell, Catherine Cutler and Martin Walters. Some California sycamores have grown to a height of 100 feet. The bark of young trees is green with a white underbark, while mature bark is dark and grooved. The leaves are 5 to 10 inches long with three or five deep lobes. The California sycamore is found in canyons and near water in the state that bears its name.
The Arizona sycamore, also known as the solar or Alamo tree, grows to a height ranging from 40 to 80 feet, according to the “Field Guide to Trees of North America” by the National Wildlife Federation. The bark flakes to reveal white, brown and gray-green underbark. The leaves are 6 to 9 inches long, with three to seven deep lobes. The Arizona sycamore is found in floodplains and near water in canyons and gulches in central to southern Arizona and parts of western New Mexico.
Oriental and London Planetrees
The Oriental planetree is from the eastern Mediterranean and can grow to a height of 100 feet and a trunk girth of 20 feet, according to “National Geographic's Field Guide to the Trees of North America,” by Keith Rushforth and Charles Hollis. Used as a shade tree in southern European villages, the tree was introduced to the United States in the 17th century. The gray bark flakes off to reveal a cream and pink underbark, The leaves grow to 8 inches long with five deep lobes.
The London planetree, a hybrid of the Oriental plane and the American sycamore, is resistant to pollution and urban settings and, consequently, was planted widely along London streets and can be found all across the United States. The tree can grow to a height of 130 feet and its light bark flakes off to uncover a cream-colored underbark. The leaves grow to 10 inches and feature three to five lobes.