Other Common Names:
The other common names for the sycamore tree are Sycamore maple. It is also referred by some native names like Old Irish, Scots Gaelic, Old English, Welsh (marsanwydd) and eastern Celtic.
The sycamore is a well-known tree, thought to have been introduced to Britain from Europe in the 15th or 16th Century. The name "sycamore" originally belongs to the fig species Ficus sycomorus native to southwest Asia (this is the sycamore or sycomore referred to in the Bible), and was later misapplied to this species (and others; see also Platanus) by reason of the superficial similarity in leaf shape. It is a hardy tree, resistant to exposure inland and on the coast, and has been extensively employed as a shelter belt around exposed houses: many old farmsteads still have such sycamore shelter plantings in their vicinity.
Apart from planted trees, sycamore spreads readily by wind-blown seed carried in the characteristic "double samaras" or winged fruits. Many woods are now invaded by Sycamore, which will grow vigorously in shade and reaches maturity very quickly, so woods rapidly become a monoculture of sycamore. Egypt was called the land of the Sycamore. The paired, winged fruits of sycamore are known to children as 'helicopters' in England because of their propeller-like path of descent. The maximum age of a sycamore is thought to be around 500 years.
The sycamore is a deciduous tree that reaches 20-35 m tall at maturity, with a broad, domed crown. On young trees, the bark is smooth and grey but becomes rougher with age and breaks up in scales, exposing the pale-brown-to-pinkish inner bark. The leaves are opposite, 7-16 cm long, with 5 coarsely-toothed lobes. They are green and hairless above, paler and hairy only on the veins below. The leaf-stalks, 10-20 cm long, are often red. The leaves may be blotched by a fungus called 'tar spot', which is harmless.
The monoecious yellow-green flowers are produced in spring on 10-20 cm pendulous racemes, with 20-50 flowers on each stalk. The 5-10 mm diameter seeds are paired in samaras, each seed with a 20-40 mm long wing to catch the wind and rotate when they fall; this helps them to spread further from the parent tree. The seeds are mature in autumn about 6 months after pollination. The grey bark is fissured and turns pinkish-brown with age. Sprays of yellowish-green, 5-petalled flowers hang downwards, appearing with the leaves in May. The join between the 2 winged fruits or 'samaras', each 3.5-5 cm long, forms a right-angle, or less.
The sycamore is native to central and southern Europe. The Sycamore or Sycamore Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) is one of the most common maples in Europe, native to central Europe from France east to Poland, and south (in mountains) to northernmost Spain and Turkey. Sycamores now occur throughout Britain and Ireland, having been introduced in the 17th century.
The Sycamore (Acer Pseudoplatanus) may be found in the parks and on the edge of the roads. In its native range, this tree occurs in woods and hedgerows. It is an extremely robust species, and in Britain thrives in many habitats, even in city parks, and by the coast where native trees become stunted.
The Sycamore maple should be grown in a bright place, with direct sunlight. With a particularly windy climate we suggest securing young trees to long solid stakes, to avoid that the wind could bare young and not very developed roots; specimens which are only a few years old might fear intense cold and wind. The Sycamore maple should be grown outdoors; it can bear very harsh temperatures without any problems, even many degrees below zero. Tree fertilization should be done at the beginning of the spring or of autumn, using humus or mature manure; this should be done by mixing a few buckets of fertilizer to the ground, around the trunk of the tree, every 2-3 years or when the tree implanted.
Seeds are best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame; it usually germinates in the following spring. Pre-soak stored seed for 24 hours and then stratify or 2 - 4 months at 1 - 8°c. It can be slow to germinate. Seed should not be dried below 35% moisture. It should germinate in late winter. If the seed is harvested too soon it will produce very weak plants or no plants at all. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on until they are 20cm or more tall before planting them out in their permanent positions. Layering, which takes about 12 months, is successful with most species in this genus. Cuttings of young shoots in June or July. The cuttings should have 2 - 3 pairs of leaves, plus one pair of buds at the base. Remove a very thin slice of bark at the base of the cutting; rooting is improved if a rooting hormone is used. The rooted cuttings must show new growth during the summer before being potted up otherwise they are unlikely to survive the winter.
Many yellowish flowers grow in narrow, drooping heads on the sycamore tree which are in bloom from April to June.
Pests and Diseases
Sycamore is susceptible to Sooty Bark Disease and Diamond Bark Disease Canker in dry warm weather, as well as a condition called Tar Spot which leaves black marks on the leaves and seeds. Nevertheless it is fairly robust and can usually be relied on to reach maturity. It is also affected by aphids and fungal diseases.
The bark, leaves, fruit, sap and the seedpods are the
most commonly used parts of the sycamore tree for
its commercial and medicinal purposes.
• The juice, or milk, is taken from the bark is made into troches and applied to tumours which it softens and dissolves.
• It also solders together the lips of fresh wounds.
• The fruit used as a local analgesic.
• The bark has mild astringent properties and has been used to make a wash for skin problems and eyewash for sore eyes.
• The fruit can also be applied as a plaster.
• Sycamore acts as a Vulnerary.
• Sycamore is planted for timber production; the wood is white with a silky lustre, and hard-wearing, used for furniture and flooring.
• European sycamore is a traditional wood used in creating necks, backs, and scrolls for violins.
• Sycamore flowers produce abundant nectar, which makes a fragrant, delicately flavoured and pale-coloured honey.
• The juice has been used to make wine.
• As it burns well, it is used for charcoal as part of woodland management.
• It is a good fuel and also makes a good charcoal that can be used as a fuel.
• It was used to make rollers in textile mills.
• In Scotland ladles for kail were scooped out of Sycamore wood.
• The sap contains sugar which is made into a syrup and used as a sweetener on many foods.