A Sycamore Year

It’s a year since I began the monthly profile of my American sycamore, Platanus occidentalis.  A year ago, blue sky prevailed in the first photos of the sycamore and the sycamore sparkled in sunshine.  Today, like much of this past week, is gray, with the addition of wet.

The sycamore drips.


This year was a (relatively) wet one here in Central Texas and also more moderate in temperatures than the previous year or so.  As a result, most of the leaves remain on my sycamore, (in contrast to many seasons, by no means all), where the tree loses upwards to one-third of its leaves due to summer’s heat and seasonal drought.


Sycamore leaves have fallen to the ground,


…but blanketing of the garden,



…of pathways,



…and of work spaces,


…has barely begun.  For now, the smattering of discarded foliage is a mere suggestion of the colossal coverage that is in the gardens’, and therefore, the gardener’s, near future. Multitudes of the sturdy, and if I might suggest, awkward, leaves will drop in the next two months.That means plenty of raking in December and early January.

My back aches just thinking about it.

I’ll add some leaves directly my compost bin and shred some others for the garden and compost bin, but most will end up in my yard-waste bins,  picked up weekly by the diligent sanitation workers of the City of Austin.


Will the rejected leaves end up in the municipal landfill?  No, they won’t–and that’s a good thing. The leaves, along with tons of other “yard waste” will be composted with biosolids from city sewage treatment, cooked and cured into an excellent garden amendment called Dillo Dirt. Since I compost, I haven’t purchased Dillo Dirt as a soil amendment in many years, but it’s great for gardeners to use for enriching poor soil and it’s safe for all gardens, including vegetable gardens.


Currently, sycamore leaf color varies–green, yellow, brown.


Once massive foliage color transformation occurs, the tree will change its leafy coverage from growing-season green, to sleepy-time yellow, with some warm toast thrown in for good measure.



I like my American sycamore.

I didn’t for a long time, simply viewing it as a high-maintenance mess, with its thick leaves and a cast of deep shade.  In recent years and especially in this last year of following the monthly evolution of my American sycamore, observing arboreal nuance  in ways that I hadn’t previously, I’ve grown to appreciate the handsome bark,


…and the  valuable cover this large tree provides for wildlife–and for me–in the long, hot Texas summers.  Rather than a tree that I think of as simply a producer of leaf-clutter, I now regard my American sycamore as an important partner in the wildlife habitat that I choose to nurture.


Thanks to Pat for hosting Tree Following, the meme for trees.  Check out The Squirrelbasket to learn about trees from all over the world.

Flexible Foliage

Leaves on my American sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, are useful indeed.  They provide beauty in waving flags of luscious green,


…and cooling shade for the trunk and anything (or anyone) else beneath the canopy.

The sycamore tree  exfoliates beautifully, revealing creamy white new bark.


Sycamore foliage also provides shelter for a bird home and a nursery for bird babies.


Only recently have I spotted this nest in the sycamore.  I was standing in a part of my property where I don’t usually hang out, when I saw a nest structure nestled in the lower part of the tree. There are no birds there now, no doubt their having fledged earlier this summer. I’m not sure how I missed seeing it before now, but going forward,  better tree observance is in order.


Handsome, peeling limbs serve as strong foundational support for the nest.

I suspect it was a Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, nest because I know that they were active in the tree earlier in the summer–they’re wonderfully gregarious birds and even if I don’t see them, I hear them.  Plus, in perusing photos of nests, Blue Jays appear to favor building with larger sticks, which I guess makes sense because they are large-ish birds.

Dropped sycamore leaves are also versatile on terra firma.  Dead, downed, and brown leaves provide cover along the soil and pathways,


…though that can be annoying when they drift to the gardens or patio and cluster, becoming garden “detritus.” Because of the wet year, there wasn’t as much shedding of sycamore foliage as is typical, but some dropped.


I find the large, thick leaves graceful and lovely ON the tree, but awkward and messy on the ground and in the garden.

On occasion I’ve used a leaf as a tool to pick up and remove an insect that I’m squeamish about, or  to remove fresh goo (use your own imagination on that one) from lawn furniture surface or a  birdbath.  Never though have I utilized a Sycamore leaf to feed a bee–until about two weeks ago.  I watched an American bumblebeeBombus pensylvanicus, cruise along the ground in my back garden one morning.  I suspect that it was near the end of its life, because it wasn’t flying and bees fly when they’re healthy and productive, but not when they’re dying.  At some point, I thought that some sugar-water might be in order to nourish and reinvigorate the bee.  Per my knowledge of feeding honeybees, I mixed a tiny amount of white sugar with water, (30% sugar to 70% water).  I found a sturdy Sycamore leaf which had a slightly convex shape and poured the liquid in. Placed in the path of the bumble bee, it eventually found the leafed treat and enjoyed a snack.



He/she sipped and slurped for several minutes.



It vacated the sugar-water leaf for a time, but returned for more of the sweet stuff.

Eventually, the bumble left  for unknown parts–I didn’t see it again.  Ants moved in for the remaining sugary drink, and by later in the day the leaf was back to playing the role of a brown and crispy leaf, or, garden detritus–take your pick.

My American sycamore has retained most of its leaves this year and is full-foliage as we enter into fall.


I’m glad there was at least one leaf that could be put to use for the wayward, and perhaps hungry or thirsty, American bumblebee.


A few days late for Tree Following, I’m thanking Pat of The Squirrelbasket for graciously hosting this fun and interesting meme about trees. Check out her blog to learn about trees from all over the world.


Still Green

Often by mid-August ( I realize it’s not “mid” yet, but, close enough), summer’s heat and dry is stressing my American SycamorePlatanus occidentalis.

It’s a tough tree and hard to kill, but it likes a river bottom situation with plenty of regular moisture.  In droughty times, the Sycamore will shed leaves as a survival mechanism, though mine has never gone completely nude.  But Sycamores are also subject to some disease problems which can hamper growth and beauty. 

The upper canopy of my Sycamore looks healthy to me–green and lush–though that might simply be a result of distance, rather than reality.


Two lower branches (which I plan to remove soon; then again, I’ve been saying that for a while) demonstrate foliage damaged by one of Sycamores’ various banes–anthracnose.



According to the Missouri Botanical Garden website, Anthracnose is caused by a fungus, Apiognomonia veneta, and is common in urban Sycamore trees.  The brown spots show a tell-tale “V” shape and the fungus can eventually cause the whole leaf to brown and drop prematurely.



The article also mentions tiny black spots which are the “fruiting bodies” of the fungal spores and, sure enough, they’re visible on the undersides of some of the leaves.


My Sycamore shows some anthracnose damage almost every summer, but it’s usually worse in wet years, which 2016 certainly qualifies for.  Spring saw deep, soaking rains and that set up a situation for fungi to flourish.  Additionally, there have been some heavy rains this summer, no doubt continuing the stage for fungal spread.

What to do?  Well, I probably won’t do anything.  I’m certainly not going to spray with a fungicide, but as good garden sanitation practice, I should rake up the fallen leaves.


There aren’t many leaves dropped this summer,

… just enough that one or two hitch a ride on the the dog’s fluffy tail or for some to whoosh into the house when the back door is opened.  My Sycamore stands in a work/storage area, and I tend to procrastinate in regular tidying of this area.  Plus, as a wildlife gardener, I’m prone to leave limbs and leaves on the ground as cover for a variety of critters. I suppose a little compromise is in order: picking up potentially diseased foliage to protect the tree’s viability, while avoiding the sterility brought on by obsessive weeding, raking, and “cleaning” of garden areas.

During prolonged drought periods, I soak the soil around the tree once or twice a month, which prevents massive leaf drop, but with this year’s summer rains, that hasn’t been necessary.

I’ll keep a watch on the tree as August progresses into September, but unless I see significantly more damage, I won’t fret about this tree.


There seem to be plenty of other things to fret about!

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