Tree Following in January: Big Dudes

The American Sycamore,  Planatus occidentalis, has big dude leaves.


It has a few little dude leaves too.



My Sycamore still hosts some leaves, both big and small, though most of its leaves are now on the ground.RICOH IMAGING

Shed has shed.



There are leaves over, under, and around shrubs, yuccas and all manner of plant material, as well.






Some have sacrificed their all for the life cycle of the deciduous tree.


In December’s Tree Following post, the Sycamore’s foliage had begun its autumnal color turn, courtesy of the slow down chlorophyll production and the visual uptick of carotenoid manufacture, but now that turn is essentially complete and leaf function for the tree is concluded for the year.  In botany, the process of leaf drop is called abscission.  Leaf drop typically occurs in late fall and winter, mostly in response to the lessening of light, but also in response to colder temperatures. Abscission also happens during tree stress and, despite its native tree status, the American Sycamore stresses during the hot and dry Texas summer months, some years more than others.  Many of these leaves dropped during July and August when our temperatures soared and the rain ceased.



Except where I find them annoying (clustered ahead of the front and back doors, ready to hitch a ride on the dog’s fluffy tail or to get blown in with the slightest puffy breeze as the door opens), I allow leaves to stay on the ground to become leaf mold and to decay.  That’s especially true in the wildscape part of my urban property which doubles as a work area.


Leaf litter, as part of a wildlife habitat philosophy, is a good thing.  Somehow in the past decades, American society was sold on the idea that leaves on the ground are bad and ugly and must be aggressively removed.  With great fanaticism, we crank up the gas-guzzling blowers and mowers, add massive noise levels to all of our towns and cities, and spew fossil fuel exhaust into our world to rid ourselves of the offending masses of leaves.  Whatever happened to using a rake?

Yes, dropped  leaves are a little messy to the human eye,



…but leaf litter serves as mulch, as protection for insects during winter, and a part of the system of biological breakdown–all good for those who make nature their home.


Within reason, I let leaves lay where they fall. Giving in to my neat-freak tendencies and urban neighborhood standards,  I vacuum up large leaves (Sycamore and Oak) with an electric (though still noisy) shredder and place that shredded stuff in spots of my gardens,





…and compost bin.

As for the last of the leaves, especially the larger of the Sycamore beasties, I rake them up along with other garden detritus for yard waste pick up.  No worries  about garden “waste” being buried in a municipal landfill, the ex-garden stuff will be combined with treated sewage sludge and sold as a soil amendment.


My American Sycamore is nearly barren of foliage now. Leaves have blown away, are blanketing gardens and pathways, or are mingling with other rotting material in the compost. Abscission is when the cells connecting the leaf petiole to the stem are sufficiently weakened and the leaf breaks from the branch. This process naturally occurs over the course of the growing season and when the cells are done-for,


…so are the leaves on the tree. Though most are down, some of my Sycamore leaves hang tough.


I expect the hangers-on to drop soon–today, tomorrow, this week–soon. Then all that will be left will be those dangly, decorative seed balls. Shall we count them?

Perhaps that’s better left until next month.

Many thanks to  Pat at The Squirrelbasket for hosting Tree Following.  Please pop over to her blog and learn what her tree and many others are up to for January’s Tree Following.

Tree Following in December: Getting to know the Sycamore

Standing strong and upright, my tree to study for the remainder of 2015 and most of 2016 is the American SycamorePlantanus occidentalis.

Also known by the names Eastern Sycamore, American Plane Tree, Plane Tree, Buttonwood, and Buttonball Tree, I’m sure there are other namesakes, but I like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Plant Database as a main reference when profiling native-to-North America plants and those are the names listed in the database on American Sycamore and I’ll stick with that list.  Who am I to argue with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center??

I call my Sycamore Shed, which rhymes with Fred, but isn’t. As this post and the year with Shed progresses, you’ll understand why Shed is a good name for this tree.

A member of the Plantanaceae family, the Sycamore is deciduous and grows quite tall, upwards to 100 feet.  I estimate that my Sycamore is about 55-60 feet tall.  I might be off a few feet, because height estimation isn’t my best thing, but I’m in the ball park.  It dwarfs my one-story 70’s urban home.

As a general rule, the Sycamore is considered a wetland plant and prefers more, rather than less, water. In nature you’d find this tree along stream and river banks, as well as in floodplains.  So why is it planted at my house in arid Austin, Texas?  Well, it is a native to this region, though we’re at its southwestern edge, and this region busts and booms with drought and flood.  Though we are tending toward a drier climate in the last couple of decades, Sycamore trees are still commonly planted and mature specimens thrive. I wouldn’t choose to plant a Sycamore if I was in the market for a tree because it does prefer a wetter foot, but my  tree was already established when we bought our home and I wouldn’t remove a healthy tree.  It’s been a good tree for my garden:  it provides shade in summer and in winter, reasons for me to complain when leaf clean-up commences.  Additionally, it’s a great resting spot for birds,

…like this White-winged Dove.

What has it done this past month?  It dropped some limbs, (remember the Shed moniker??), after strong winds from a cold front.

Actually, that last photo is of a limb that bludgeoned to the ground early in the summer and that I haven’t pruned and placed for the nice yard waste folks to remove.  I like to keep some limbs around in my garden for the wood-nesting bees (and anything else that digs wood) and that large limb isn’t in the way, so I’ve left it alone.  I frequently find very small limbs on the ground under this tree; here is one, with long-dead leaves attached, that has broken and is caught in the crook of larger branches, but has yet to fall.

Eventually, I’m sure that mess will end up on the ground for me to place in my yard waste bin.

After the bluster of wind with our first cold front, I found this along my front raised bed, which Shed overlooks and…sheds on.

These are the individual seed remains of some of the seed balls that are a signature feature of the American Sycamore.

It’s a little odd that some seed balls disseminated now, as it’s usually in spring that the Sycamore seed balls explode and spread their seedy selves, but it was a blustery wind.

Most of the seed balls dangle in the tree and haven’t yet busted apart and floated to terra firma –but they will.  Eventually.

The foliage of my tree is just beginning its autumn color morph, which can be quite attractive, especially when viewing the total tree, as opposed to individual leaves.

American Sycamore’s leaves are large and thick–bright green in spring, summer, and early fall, turning a golden-yellow before they drop.  They also can suffer some insect, disease, and heat problems depending upon the seasonal weather issues.   Because of our heavy flooding in May and June, I think there was some damage to the foliage from either insects and a possible bout of Sycamore anthracnose, which is a troublesome, though not fatal, fungal disease of Sycamores.  The current condition of many leaves, with some brown patches,

…and colored mottling,

…give me reason to think that during our very wet spring, the tree was under some assault and stress, though I must admit that I wasn’t paying much attention to the Sycamore at that time.


I rather like the splash of red on the leaves, but I can’t tell you if the coloration is normal.

Perhaps in a year’s time, when I’ve followed, watched, and learned, I can speak more knowledgeably about this tree.


The American Sycamore is a hardy tree, foliage quirks notwithstanding, and even when anthracnose is pervasive and a tree defoliates, the tree flushes out with new growth and continues its Sycamore leaf thing for the duration of the growing season.

Sycamore bark is beautiful,

…and the tree’s height makes a definitive statement in my garden.

It’s a tough survivor, which is one of the reasons I’m choosing to follow it and learn more about Shed, the American Sycamore.   Many thanks to  Pat at The Squirrelbasket for hosting Tree Following.  Please pop over to her blog and learn what her tree and many others are up to for the December’s Tree Following.


Tree Following, November 2015

It begins again.

This business of following a tree and learning about its ways, then sharing that information with interested, tree-loving readers.  Additionally, we Tree Followers have a new hostess for our tree meme  addiction, lately resigned by Lucy of Loose and Leafy, but bravely acquired by Pat at The Squirrelbasket.

I’m a bit late for the November 7th post, what with life happening and all.  For  this new tree and its debut post, it’s mostly pictorial:

This is a tree that was already established in my garden when I bought my home in 1985.

Mostly, I’ve hated it.

Except that in recent years, as I’ve grown to appreciate the shade it provides, its color, its role as a refuge for wildlife, and its stateliness in the neighborhood,  I’ve come to admire and respect this tree.  I believe, though I’m not positive, that this tree–this chosen followed tree for 2015-16–is an American SycamorePlatanus occidentalis.

I suppose in the next year, I’ll find out if this tree is what I think it is.

I hope you’ll come along with me in the next 12 months to climb up the tree, to take shelter from the Texas summer sun under its canopy, to help rake its leaves, to observe the birds, mammals and insects that visit and make their homes in this American Sycamore.

Thanks to Pat for hosting Tree Following–check out The Squirrelbasket to learn about trees from all over the world.