Saturday, December 10, 2011

Meet . . . Platanus!

 a mature sycamore tree in Denver, Colorado

This plant profile is a bit different because it features a plant that I do not recommend. However, it's a plant that I think is visually intriguing and worthy of closer examination if you happen across one.
Platanus occidentalis, American sycamore, is native to eastern North America. It's found in deep, moist soils - not a characteristic of Colorado's front Range - and is very large, 75 to 100 feet tall with a similar spread - so not great for most residential landscapes, either.  This specimen is located in an irrigated park (32nd Ave and Federal Blvd, Denver) with plenty of room to grow. The texture is irregular and coarse with rangy branching and large leaves.

These trees definitely fall into the "messy" category. There's a mature sycamore in a yard right around the corner from me; I walk by that property all the time and I've noticed the constant litter of twigs (and branches after snow storms).

The beauty of a sycamore is in the amazing bark, which shifts from chunky, grey tessellations on the trunk to large, multicolor, flaky sheets on the lower branches, to smooth creamy-white bark on the upper-branches.

love the lichen on the north side of this old tree!

hues of warm browns, greys, and cream

And did I mention the cool fruit? Another sculptural component of Platanus.

Keep your eyes open for sycamore trees and enjoy them when you see them - just don't plant one!


Halina said...

I enjoy looking at sycamore trees. I am from Poland living in the States, NJ for 20 years.
I wonder why you would not recommend planting it. Not that I would like to do that but I am just curious.
I like reading your blog and your pictures as well. Thank you for all information.

Desert Dweller said...

P. occidentalis - I recall a number in the Wash Park area when I used to mow lawns there in college. They get nailed w/ anthacnose in Denver's (usually) cool-wet springs.

Yes, a bottomland tree similar to cottonwood in water needs, but much stronger-wooded and less alkaline soil-tolerant.

In arid Abq, even more arid El Paso and Las Vegas NV, London Plane (P. acerfolia) are common, and people just use them over and over, no matter how poor they grow without lawn conditions. Abq also has many California Sycamore / P. racemosa and Arizona Sycamore / P. wrightii...a little tougher, but not much. They hate summer here...brownish leaves.
Mexican Sycamore / P. mexicana better, but prob still for fertile, well-watered lawns.

As you say, enjoy them, but don't plant - hardly a property or landscape they are compatible with, esp in the desert!

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Hi Halina! Glad you are enjoying The Art Garden. As I mentioned in the post, there are three basic reasons not to put Platanus in home landscapes in my region: 1. the need too much water (it's very dry here)2. they get too big (and will likely suffer from catastrophic pruning practices) 3. they're messy (constant maintenance for the gardener).

As Desert Dweller mentioned in his comment (thanks David!) there are other species that may be marginally more suitable, but not really. This is a tree to be enjoyed in it's native habitat or where water is not an issue.

Les said...

They are very common around here and do well. I gave my parents one when they moved into their new house (22 years ago) and it is now coming into its own. Not the cleanest tree, but it provides good shade and the bark is worthy. There is a street in Williamsburg lined with them, and they must be 4 stories tall and in the winter remind me of skeletons doing a line dance.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Les, thank you so much for your comment. It is a perfect example of the "right plant, right place" philosophy. Glad you can enjoy the beauty of Platanus in a good environment!