Tree Following in February: Bare-n-Naked

As I  join with tree followers everywhere in admiring trees, not much has changed with my American Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, since January’s reportI suppose that bare-n-naked (or nekkid, as we’re wont to say here in Texas) is expected during dormant winter months.

Stunning against the pure Texas sky,

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…the elegant, winter-white bark is especially gorgeous.

According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the American Sycamore has the largest trunk diameter of any Eastern North American native hardwood tree.  I suspect that the West Coast trees in the Sequoioideae family out-girth the Sycamore by a smidge. Or maybe more than  a smidge.

Sycamore wood is used commercially for butcher blocks, boxes and crates, as well as some furniture, but reportedly course and hard to work with.

The outer-bark is rough along the bottom of the trunk, with revealed patches of pale/grey/beige bark underneath,

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The pallid bark becomes smoother and more prominent toward the canopy.

Peeling bark showcasing subtle colors is a signature visual quality of Sycamore trees, but I’ve read that it’s not entirely clear why the bark peels.

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Some sources suggest that because Sycamores grow quickly and the epidermis of the tree is rigid, that it sloughs the bark to accommodate rapid growth. Also, Sycamores are happiest when they grow in wet bottom-lands, so it might be that the tree employs more transpiration throughout and therefore, the bark sheds more than many trees.   Another theory is that there are more issues with fungi and other wet-feet problems precisely because Sycamores grow naturally in wet and heavy soil types and the bark exfoliates as a protective measure against disease problems. A last explanation of Sycamores’ penchant for peeling is that because Sycamores photosynthesize through their limbs, the shedding bark allows for a longer season of photosynthesis and therefore,there is rapid and continual growth.

My Sycamore isn’t planted in a floodplain, nor does it grow in particularly soggy soil.  And yet,

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…peeling is a thing Shed does.  I guess adaptation and genetics win again.

Seed balls dangle in the winter chill, decorating the foliage-empty tree.

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I’m a little surprised that more of them haven’t drifted or dropped to the ground yet, in preparation of spreading Shed’s genetic material, but I’ve seen a couple of  mushed balls on the ground and in the compost bin.

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By next month, there should be many exploding seed balls (as a neighbor once described them), raining down on the Earth in and around my gardens, preparing to create new trees.

Perhaps there will be seedlings to show you.

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Thanking Pat of The Squirrelbasket for graciously hosting this fun meme about trees. Check out her blog for interesting information about trees from all over the world.

 

21 thoughts on “Tree Following in February: Bare-n-Naked

    • Isn’t that a great phrase?! I don’t think the neighbor meant is as a compliment, but I get a kick out of the Sycamore’s seed dispersal process. And yes, it’s possible that there will be tiny leaves emerging by March 7th–stay tuned!

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  1. hello Tina your photos of your sycamore’s light bark against the wonderful blue sky you have are a treat for my eyes and look beautiful, I had never seen these pompom seedheads before I started reading garden blogs and saw them on US blogs, they are a decoration of their own, I hope you do not get a carpet of seedlings that some sycamores produce over here,

    thank you for your comment on my blog, after reading Pats post and a couple of tree following posts I later updated my blog post as I have decided to follow one of the birches, Frances

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    • I look forward to learning about your Birch, Frances. We’ve enjoyed lots of clear blue skies this winter, though that also means very dry conditions–not so good. I love the seed ball decorations on the Sycamore, so fun and interesting.

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  2. I think the bark is one of the most wonderful for the winter time; not to mention the seed balls on mature trees. I walked one day down a street I don’t usually, and remarked for the first time that there were about 5 Platanus as street trees! (so I should walk more 😉
    Some trunks were a bit damaged from the piling snow and salt probably but overall looking great.

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    • The bark is really beautiful. I was noticing another Sycamore in an adjacent neighborhood this morning–beautiful white against the sky! Walking is a good thing to do–it’s amazing what you’ll notice. 🙂

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    • It’s not all that different from why we shed our skin, I guess. But you’re right, I’d never really thought about why trees shed and the great variability in their shedding.

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  3. Lovely post – such a pale and interesting tree. I bet it WOULD be out-girthed by the mighty redwood, though!
    I particularly like the close-ups of the bark – it looks like camouflage clothing. Although I doubt if that is the reason for the peeling. Your explanations were very interesting. I always wonder when I see our London plane trees (Platanus x acerifolia), which are a cross between your P. occidentalis and Platanus orientalis. Do young trees peel more than very old ones, I wonder?
    But they all have “great balls of fire”.
    All the best 🙂

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    • Thanks, Pat and thanks for hosting Tree Following. Yeah, those Redwoods/Sequoias are hard to beat, girth-wise. You know, I didn’t really think about it, but you’re right that the peeled bark looks like camouflage. And that’s a good question about the young vs. old trees. I’ll keep an eye out for some younger trees this year as a comparison.

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  4. Where I grew up there were lots of sycamores and also sweetgums. I much preferred the sycamore fruit for walking on with bare feet. Very interesting about the possible evolutionary advantages of peeling bark.

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    • The Sweetgum is not a tree I’ve ever been around. I love the POP of the Sycamore seed ball when you stand on one!! And isn’t the explanation about peeling bark interesting–I’ve never really given much thought to why trees’ bark peels, but…there it is!

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  5. Such beautiful bark, who needs leaves or blossom when you can admire that texture and colour against the clear blue sky. So much more attractive than the sycamores that grow around here, and are the bane of my life thanks to their very efficient seed production – and the high rate of germination…

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    • It is lovely bark, isn’t it? I imagine in appropriate situations, that our sycamore would also reproduce. They do grow in groves along rivers and streams, but that’s not something I have to worry about where my tree is. 🙂

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  6. Pingback: Tree following link box for February 2016 | The Squirrelbasket

  7. Considering a purchase of a property with a purported 400 y.o. sycamore. The house had previous damage from a falling limb and the tree appears to be dead but gorgeous. It’s about 20′ in diameter or so and I was told by a neighbor that the current owner wanted to remove but was said he couldn’t due to the age of the tree. What do I need to concern myself with in regard to the condition of this tree? It’s on the banks of a ditch and if it decided to fall over feel confident it would go toward the water and not the house. However, if it’s rotted from the inside due to disease what do you suggest I do?

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    • Hi Deborah. Honestly, I’d contact an arborist, if I were you. Not some guy with a chain saw and a ladder, but a certified arborist. You can probably find a list of reputable arborists with your County Extension Agent’s office. Sycamore do shed limbs, but with one that age, it could certainly fall in a windstorm. Good luck with your decision.

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