Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus)
Sycamore is a deciduous broadleaf tree native tree to central, eastern and southern Europe. It was probably introduced to the UK in the Middle Ages and is now a naturalised species.
Common name: sycamore
Scientific name: Acer pseudoplatanus
UK provenance: non-native
Interesting fact: the botanical name of sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, means 'like a plane tree'. Although sycamore is an Acer and not closely related to plants in the Platanus genus, the leaves are superficially similar.
A year in the life of a sycamore tree
What does sycamore look like?
Overview: can grow to 35m and can live for 400 years. The bark is dark pink-grey and smooth when young, but becomes cracked and develops small plates with age. Twigs are pink-brown and hairless.
Leaves: palmate leaves measure 7-16cm and have five lobes. Leaf stalks of younger trees are characteristically red.
Flowers: small, green-yellow and hang in spikes, or 'racemes'.
Fruits: after pollination by wind and insects, female flowers develop into distinctive winged fruits known as samaras.
Look out for: leaf veins are hairy on the underside
Identified in winter by: twigs are pink-brown and have no hairs.
Where to find sycamore
Sycamore may have been introduced to the UK, first in England, by the Romans. However, other reports suggest it was introduced to the UK in the Tudor era around the 1500s. More widespread planting occurred in the 1700s and the earliest reports of the species naturalising in the UK date from the mid 1800s.
Value to wildlife
Sycamore is attractive to aphids and therefore a variety of their predators, such as ladybirds, hoverflies and birds. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of a number of moths, including the sycamore moth, plumed prominent and maple prominent. The flowers provide a good source of pollen and nectar to bees and other insects, and the seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals.
Mythology and symbolism
There is very little folklore associated with sycamore, as it is an introduced species. However, in Wales, sycamore trees were used in the traditional craft of making 'love spoons'. In some parts of the UK the winged seeds are known as 'helicopters', and used in flying competitions and model-making by children.
How we use sycamore
Sycamore timber is hard and strong, pale cream and with a fine grain. It is used for making furniture and kitchenware as the wood does not taint or stain the food.
Trees are planted in parks and large gardens for ornamental purposes. Mature trees are extremely tolerant of wind, so are often planted in coastal and exposed areas, as a wind break. They are also tolerant of pollution and are therefore planted in towns and cities.
Sycamore is susceptible to sooty bark, which can lead to wilting of the crown and death of the tree, as well as a variety of other fungal diseases. It may also be affected by horse chestnut scale insect, which appears as fluffy white spots on the trunk and branches during summer.