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American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

Also known as American planetree.

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American Sycamore

Summary

A large native tree of floodplains and riparian areas, with characteristic mottled bark, especially higher up on trunk and upper branches.

Range - Expand

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Native

This tentative map is based on the FHWA's ERA. This data lacks information on Canada, but also overestimates native ranges, especially around the edges, as this post explains. We have not yet reviewed or fixed this map.

USDA Plants Profile for Platanus occidentalis

Illinois Wildflowers Page for Platanus occidentalis

Similar Plants

thumbnail of London Planetree
London Planetree (Platanus ×hispanica)
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Habitat

Mostly found in bottomland woodlands and floodplains, often growing right up to the water's edge, or even in sandbars or small islands in streams and rivers. Less commonly found in wetter areas of more upland habitats. On uplands, functions primarily as a pioneer species.

Needs significant direct sunlight and moisture, although it can tolerate some shade. Tolerates a wide range of soil types. Tolerates significant temporary flooding, especially in winter; tolerance of soil saturation is greater in the north of its range than the south, and is less during the growing season.

Intolerant of fire due to its thin bark.

Life Cycle

Seedlings require significant direct sunlight to survive.

Trees tend to begin producing seed at 25 years of age, although trees grown in plantations or landscaping in ideal conditions may produce seed as early as 6-7 years. Seed production peaks between 50 and 200 years.

Seeds are wind-dispersed, and due to this species presence in floodplains and along waterways, a significant portion of the seeds land in water, and are further distributed by water. Seed distribution is timed so as to take advantage of a time when water levels tend to be decreasing, leading many seeds to be distributed on mudflats and sandbars in and along rivers and streams.

Seeds germinate in response to high light conditions, and also require significant moisture and warm temperatures. Germination is inhibited by deep litter.

Trees resprout vigorously from the stump when cut or sometimes even at the base of healthy trees when a gap opens up additional light.

Uses

Sometimes planted as a landscaping plant, especially in parks and large yards with ample space.

The American Sycamore is the only species of its genus in the vast majority of its range; in urban areas, however, the London Planetree, possibly a hybrid of this and Platanus orientalis, or possibly a cultivar of that species alone, is widely planted, and this hybrid or variety has become established in some wild populations, mostly near New York City.

Two other Platanus species occur in southwestern North America, but they do not overlap with this species in range.

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