Sycamore

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Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) 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.

What does sycamore look like?

Mature trees 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. The palmate leaves measure 7-16cm and have five lobes. Leaf stalks of younger trees are characteristically red.

Sycamore is monoecious, meaning both male and female flowers are found on the same tree. The flowers are small, green-yellow and hang in spikes, or 'racemes'. After pollination by wind and insects, female flowers develop into distinctive winged fruits known as samaras. 

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.

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.

Threats

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.

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