Quick facts

Common name: sycamore

Scientific name: Acer pseudoplatanus

Family: Sapindaceae

Origin: non-native

These broadleaf trees can grow to 35m and live for 400 years. The bark is dark pink-grey, and smooth when young, but becomes cracked and develops small plates with age. Twigs are pink-brown and hairless.

Look out for: leaf veins which are hairy on the underside.

Identified in winter by: twigs which are pink-brown and have no hairs.

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What does sycamore look like?

Credit: Anna Badley / WTML

Leaves

Palmate leaves measure 7–16cm and have five lobes. Leaf stalks of younger trees are characteristically red.

Credit: Martin Fowler / Alamy Stock Photo

Flowers

Small, green-yellow and hang in spikes, or 'racemes'.

Credit: Sylvain Cordier / naturepl.com

Fruits

After pollination by wind and insects, female flowers develop into distinctive winged fruits known as samaras.

Not to be confused with:

Field maple (Acer campestre) and Norway maple (Acer platanoides). V-shaped seeds tell sycamore apart – the angle of the seeds is narrower than the others.

A year in the life of an sycamore tree

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Where to find sycamore

Sycamore is native to central, eastern and southern Europe. It is thought to have been introduced to the UK by the Romans. However, other reports suggest it was introduced to the UK in the Tudor era around the 1500s. More widespread planting occurred in the 1700s and the earliest reports of the species naturalising in the UK date from the mid-1800s.

The seed is extremely fertile, so sycamore has spread quickly across the UK and colonised many woodlands to the detriment of native species.

Value to wildlife

Sycamore trees provide food for a variety of animals, including bees, pollinators, caterpillars, birds, and insects. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of a number of moths, including the sycamore moth, plumed prominent and maple prominent. Sycamore seeds are eaten by birds, such as greenfinch and goldfinch. Sycamore bark is eaten by insects, including sycamore lacewing and sycamore aphid. The flowers provide a good source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects, and the seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals.

Sycamore trees also provide habitat for a variety of animals, including birds, mammals, insects, and fungi. Sycamore trees are popular nesting sites for blackbird, robin and blue tit. They also provide shelter for small mammals and bats. Sycamore trees are home to a wide variety of insects, such as species of ladybird, butterflies and beetles. They ahost a variety of fungi, such as the sycamore bracket fungus and sycamore toadstool.

Mythology and symbolism

Sycamore trees have been revered by many cultures throughout history for their beauty, strength, and longevity. In ancient Greece, the sycamore was associated with the goddess Hera, queen of the gods and goddess of marriage and childbirth. The tree was also seen as a symbol of fertility and abundance.

In Celtic mythology, the sycamore was associated with the world tree, a sacred tree that connects heaven, earth, and the underworld. The Celts believed that the sycamore was a home to fairies and other spirits, and they often planted sycamore trees near their homes for protection.

In Norse mythology, the sycamore was associated with Freya, goddess of love, fertility, and war. Freya's chariot was said to be drawn by two cats, and she was often depicted sitting in a sycamore tree.

In Christian mythology, the sycamore is associated with the story of Zacchaeus, a tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus, he called him down and invited himself to Zacchaeus's house. This story is often interpreted as a symbol of God's love and forgiveness for all people, regardless of their social status or past sins.

In addition to its mythological and religious significance, the sycamore tree has also been used in a variety of traditional crafts and customs. For example, in Wales, sycamore trees were used to make "love spoons," decoratively carved wooden spoons that were given as a romantic gesture. In some parts of the UK, the winged seeds of the sycamore tree are known as "helicopters" and are used in flying competitions and model-making by children.

The sycamore tree is a truly versatile and symbolic tree. It is a reminder of the beauty and power of nature, as well as the rich cultural heritage of many different cultures around the world.

Uses of sycamore

Sycamore timber is hard and strong, pale cream and with a fine grain, and is excellent for carving. It is used to make furniture and kitchenware, such as ladles and wooden spoons as the wood does not taint or stain the food.

They are planted in parks and large gardens. Mature trees are extremely tolerant of wind, so are often planted in coastal and exposed areas as a wind break. They are also tolerant of pollution and are therefore ideal street trees.

Threats and conservation

Sycamore is susceptible to sooty bark, which can lead to wilting of the crown and death of the tree, as well as a variety of other fungal diseases. It may also be affected by horse chestnut scale insect, which appears as fluffy white spots on the trunk and branches during the summer.

Keep the legends alive

Many of our oldest trees have no real legal protection. Help us fight for stronger laws.

Sign our petition