How to Identify a Sycamore Tree

Updated February 21, 2017

There are three different species of sycamore trees in the United States, differentiated mainly by their size and the shapes of their leaves. By far the most widespread is the majestic American sycamore, which is the most massive tree in the eastern half of the country in terms of volume, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The American sycamore is one of the few trees that you can easily identify during any season of the year if you know what keys to look for.

Check a field guide to trees to see if the sycamore grows in your part of the United States. The American sycamore has a range that covers most of the eastern half of the nation, growing from New England south to northern Florida and as far to the west as Texas and the Great Plains. The California sycamore confines itself to that state while the Arizona sycamore grows in Arizona and New Mexico.

Start your search for a sycamore tree near a river or stream. These trees favour moist soil and frequently grow in numbers overlooking waterways

Search for a tall tree with a large girth. Sycamores can grow as high as 100 feet and have a diameter of 10 feet, making them a huge fixture in the landscape. The low branches grow straight out and often come close to the ground.

Look for very large leaves. Sycamores have three-, four- and five-lobed leaves, often on the same tree, and these leaves sometimes are 15 inches across. The stems and the veins of the leaves have short hairs that give them a fuzzy texture. The stems can be as long as 6 inches, and the leaves fall off as winter approaches.

Recognise a sycamore from its unique bark. The bark of the younger sycamores is a greyish-white colour that reflects the bright sun on a clear winter day, making the sycamore stand out against the background. Older trees have a mottled pattern of green, brown, white and grey bark that you will easily recognise up close.

Identify a sycamore by its fruit, which takes the form of a woody ball. The fruit is ripe by October and stays on the tree through the winter months before breaking up into seeds. The fruit is brown, as large as a table-tennis ball, and hangs down from a long stalk. This fruit gives the sycamore one of its nicknames: the buttonball tree.

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About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.