Sycamores in winter

Sycamores along the canal behind the Butler campus -click to enlarge

Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) are signature trees along Indiana’s creeks and streams. This time of year is a great time to see them from bridges as you drive over. Their white mottled bark stands out against the mostly gray of the other trees.

Distinctive sycamore bark

Biologists don’t know why there are so many different patterns to tree bark. One idea I read recently suggested that bark that peels off easily may make it hard for vine to climb up trunks.

Sycamore leaves and fruits (= round balls hanging from branches)

Sycamores have seeds borne in fruits that look like Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), without the annoying woody capsule. They have the same shapes fruits, globes, that hang from stalks below the branches. They are soft and fall apart. You won’t twist your ankle on them. Seeds have tufts of hairs attached to help them spread in the wind to your gutters, window screens and other places.

This large tree is in the backyard of our house near the Butler University campus. It is as tall as a 4 story building and gives us great shade. It also produces huge, tough leaves, loses chunks of bark when it is dry in the summer and then again when it rains as the trunk shrinks and expands.

Large sycamore near Butler University

Every spring we lose at least one flush of leaves as the tree gets infected by anthracnose, a fungal infection. Anthracnose thrives during moist cool springs. Sycamore is one of the last trees to leave out in Central Indiana, maybe to try to avoid the fungus.

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