Platanus occidentalis: Tall native tree of the Eastern bottomlands
The American sycamore is a common native tree of the eastern United States, easy to recognize even at a distance. Here are some characteristics of the adult Platanus occidentalis:
- massive trunk and branches
- great height
- uniquely mottled bark color on the lower trunks and branches
- peeling outer bark exposing the light-colored inner bark on younger (upper and outer) branches
- large leaves
- dangling ball-shaped fruits, especially visible in winter
Common names for the American sycamore include "buttonball" and "buttonwood", which refer to the sycamore fruit.
Once you learn what a sycamore looks like, you'll notice it in many of the bottomlands of the eastern USA. Its natural range encompasses every state from Maine to Florida and west, as far as eastern Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas.
Sycamore trees of the Mississippi and lower Ohio river valleys are some of the largest of the species. Here are several nice specimens, photographed last week in northeastern Christian County, Kentucky.
In my opinion, sycamores are not suited for the area of your yard that's near the house. They shed large leaves throughout the season, and the fruits are prickly. Also, they have a lot of surface roots that interfere with lawn mowing. However, if you have a remote area that doesn't really need a groomed look, they're beautiful, fast-growing trees. Just make sure you have room for them.
Some nice images of the sycamore
Platanus occidentalis fact sheet
Wikipedia sycamores page