41119Out in rural chaparral regions, where water is scarce, the big and bold California sycamore, Platanus racemosa, somehow seems to find the spots where groundwater is not too far below the surface of the soil. It is technically a riparian tree, that is just as comfortable competing with cottonwoods and willows along forested rivers and floodplains. It eventually get too big and messy for refined urban gardens, but is somewhat popular nonetheless.

The bulky trunks and limbs are just too striking to ignore, especially as trees defoliate to expose the mottled beige and gray bark. Trunks are typically leaning and irregularly sculptural. Many trees have multiple trunks. The biggest trees are a hundred feet tall. The big palmately lobed leaves can be eight inches wide, but unfortunately do not color well in autumn. The foliar tomentum (fuzz) can be irritating to the skin when leaves need to be raked. Athracnose causes much of the early spring foliage to fall, and sometimes distorts and discolors later summer foliage.

4 thoughts on “California Sycamore

  1. We have a lot of Sycamore trees along creeks and rivers that are very large and beautiful. Dad even planted two in the yard because he really liked their white trunks. When we were driving on the highway I heard him say many times, “Look at those Sycamore trees. Ain’t that something.” Indeed!

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    1. Yours are probably American sycamores. They are endemic to a much larger range. I remember them in Oklahoma. They resemble the California sycamores, but are somewhat smaller, with more upright trunks. The Latin name ‘Platanus’ is derived from Plato, because he taught his students in a grove of sycamores rather than in a formal auditorium. The white trunks of the sycamores were thought to resemble the white marble columns of an auditorium. Hippocrates taught medicine also in a grove of sycamores. There are a few hospitals in America, including Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, that are outfitted with a descendant of a historical Grecian sycamore known as Tree of Hippocrates in Kos. The tree at Dominican Hospital is described as a ‘seedling’ of the original, but I believe that it was grown from cutting.

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    1. That would have been the American sycamore, which has a very extensive range. California sycamore is too big for urban areas, although we have planted a few as street trees in wide park strips in Los Angeles.

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