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.

Foliage Day, December 2014

I’ve profiled foliage from my garden in the past, but I’m going to hang out with the Europeans today by joining with Christina and her beautiful blog,  Creating my own garden of the Hesperides, as she hostesses Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day for December 2014.

Folks who’ve relocated to Austin, Texas have complained to me (usually in  whiny voices), there’s no fall color here.  That gets my “Texan” up a bit, because we do enjoy autumn color in Central Texas, at home and all around. Lovely fall foliage.

IMGP2940.newThe color evolution happens later than in other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, closer to the actual start date for winter.  Additionally, the turn of foliage is gradual, beginning in November, peaking in late November/early December, and typically finishing by New Year’s Day.  It’s not a dramatic foliage show, loud and boisterous like you’d think something in Texas would be.  Instead, the change is gradual, subtle, and gentle.

In my gardens, the two Shumard OakQuercus shumardii, trees extend their color change over many weeks.

There are several species of oak trees in Texas that are commonly referred to as “Red” oak.  I’m guilty of misnaming the two major arboreal specimens in my back garden as “Red” oaks.  In fact, both are Shumard  Oaks.

Gorgeous trees, I appreciate their many attributes: the shade they cast in summer, the cover and food provided for the many birds and other wildlife who visit or make these trees home, and the fall foliage mosaic (albeit in December) that these two trees provide.

Another tree residing in my realm, though probably not one I would have planted on my own, is the American Sycamore, Plantanus

I don’t hate this tree, but it’s a bit water thirsty for Central Texas–it’s naturally found along stream banks and bottomlands which hold moisture from floods, and that’s not where my home resides.  The tree was established when I bought my home and I wouldn’t remove a mature tree, so it’s remained as a major shade source for my gardens. Aside from its struggles during dry periods (drought-stress causes defoliation), the leaves are thick and big. Really big.

Awkward and especially messy in the garden, the leaves don’t break down in any reasonable amount of time. Here you can see a small sampling of Sycamore leaf litter. There are points during late December when all that is visible in certain parts of my gardens are those dinner plate-sized leaves. A garden is not so nice when those huge leaves obscure everything in it!  Sycamore leaves are too large and thick to leave in the garden (for this OCD gardener), or to place, as is, into the compost.  They mat together, forming a barrier against moisture, thus slowing the composting process.

But in the tree, especially during the seasonal change,  Sycamore foliage is quite lovely.

Fluttering in the breeze, in an array of colors,…the leaves are resplendent against the blue sky.

Once the leaves drop and I’ve vacuumed and shredded them, dumped them directly into my compost bin and/or onto the gardens as mulch, the spherical seed pods decorate the tree throughout winter.  In spring, the seed balls explode, releasing feathery seeds aloft in the wind.

On the ground, foliage also makes its presence known.  Floating in the bird baths,


…accompanying the bee hives,

…and blanketing the gardens and pathways.  Here, the brown oak leaves combine with the stalks of the RetamaParkinsonia aculeata.

A bit upwards from the ground sit perennials which also sport fabulous foliage this GBFD. The colorful foliage of the Ruby Red Runner, Alternanthera hybrid, which is part of the biological filtering system of my pond, is

Tiny floral gomphrena puffs accompany the plum leaves. Ruby Red Runner provides foliage interest nearly year round; a hard freeze will render this plant dormant.

The Butterfly VineMascagnia macroptera, showcases lush green foliage and fascinating chartreuse seed pods which resemble butterflies, thus the common name for this native plant to Mexico and southwards.

Currently, none of the seed pods are the rusty-brown they eventually become, but it’s quite a picture when there are differently pigmented “butterflies” resting on the vine.

Firebush, Hamelia patens. speckles after frost damage to its foliage,

…but  I like it.  No blooms remain on this heat-loving, native-to-Florida.  Once we have a killing freeze, it will be dormant until late spring.

Lastly, the Chile Pequin, Capsicum annuum (var. glabriusculum) adds major hotness to the garden.

Pepper hotness, that is.  A beautiful, shade-tolerant and deciduous (in most winters) shrub, many birds (and my husband) favor these chile peppers, the only truly native chile pepper in Texas.  Here, it’s  accompanied by Yarrow, Achillea millefolium.

Such a lovely plant for this time of year.  Who says we don’t have seasonal foliage color in Texas??

For foliage celebrations from around the world, visit Creating my own garden of the Hesperides for GBFD!