• Sycamore, king of Sierra foothill trees

    by  • May 13, 2017 • CA natives, Sierra Foothills

    The stately sycamore

    With slanted and twisted trunks and mottled bark, the California Sycamore is a majestic curiosity.  For me, this stately native marks nature’s cycle with beauty and grace and also reminds me of my childhood.

    Sycamore! I love this tree and grew up with one next to our lawn in suburbia. I used to volunteer to rake up the leaves of this one because they curl up, sounding nice and hollow as you rake them. They don’t crumble as you rake,…
    The Sycamore, Platanus racemosa, is a California native tree and grows moderately fast to 40-100 feet tall, in canyons, floodplains and along streams and rivers in the foothills and all over California.  Racemosa is Latin for raceme, meaning flowers freely branching like grapes along the end of the main stem on short individual flower stalks.
    Sycamores are water lovers and need some extra water until they establish where you plant them.  When traveling in California, you’ll see them growing along a stream or river. In fact when you begin to recognize these trees from afar, you can tell there is a stream by the line of sycamores. They are a habitat for nesting animals of all kinds.
    Sycamores are best for large-scale landscapes, or at the back of a woodland or forest garden. The only drawback for backyard trees is the seedpods which are small, round stickery pods that don’t mix well with bare feet. Each pod encases a small seed and the spiky pods give this tree its nickname, Buttonball tree.

    We see sycamores along the Kern and King’s Rivers when we camp and when driving the back roads of the foothills of California that we love.  The November light looks so beautiful through their leaves.


    The thin, irregular bark flakes off of Sycamore trees, leaving a variegated patchwork of light and dark gray, tan, black and even pale green that resemble that assorted pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle.


    Sycamores leaf out late in Spring,…in mid May. and turn golden in Fall.  The trunks are distinctively white and mottled with grey patches that peel off like puzzle pieces. The leaves are very large and palm shaped with a furry bottom surface.  Sometimes the leaves look two toned, with green on the upper side and gold on the bottom side.



    A sycamore branch frames the river

    Here’s a stunning Fall view of some sycamores on the Fort Hunter-Liggett property south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park



    My Sycamore in the garden

    A sycamore was the first tree I planted in my new home here in the Sierra foothills in 2006.
    I planted it as near as I could next to the small seasonal creek that flows along one edge of the garden. I knew it would need the cooler air and any extra water it could get.  I set up a drip line, actually an old hose to travel way down the hill and trickle onto the roots.

    Pick a planting site big enough to accommodate a full-grown sycamore tree.  Look for a spot with at least 20 square feet away from your house, power lines and other trees.

    2006, next to a 12 year old

    2006, next to a 12 year old

    In 2008, it looks about the same size!


    Finally in 2010, my sycamore finally takes off and begins to grow.



    Here in 2016, my sycamore is  wide as it is tall,’throwing shade’ and about 16 feet tall.

    Growing a majestic native sycamore in your Sierra foothill garden is easy and will give you years of beauty and usefulness, shade and privacy.



    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.