The unseasonably warm month of February lulled many of us into thinking we’d cruise into spring. Then, March arrived like a lion. Unusually cold temperatures, a couple of major snowstorms and persistent, cold winds have made us yearn for spring all the more.
April is around the corner. Take heart – trees and other plants will begin to bloom soon. Meanwhile, boost your spirits by observing details of trees and plants in late winter/early spring conditions.
American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), is part of a broader family of trees in the Sycamore family. Usually just called “Sycamore” but also called Buttonwood or Buttonball-tree, it is a tree we can identify and enjoy by its distinctive bark, year-round. On the lower parts of the trunk, bark is tan to reddish to grayish brown, scaly, in coarse, rectangular patches. Moving up the trunk and into branches, bark becomes smooth, thin, peeling in patches, exposing bright white, creamy white and gray overlays. The effect is very decorative, especially in sunlight against a clear blue sky.
Sycamores earned their “button” names in by-gone days when people associated the tree’s fruits, called achenes, with old-fashioned, leathery, round clothes buttons.
The fruits help distinguish sycamores from a closely related and widely planted urban tree called London Planetree. Both look, and are, very similar. If you enjoy identifying trees, as I do, here are two clues to solving the mystery of whether you are looking at a sycamore or a London plane: Sycamore fruits occur in singles, while London Planetree fruits occur in pairs (think “Single/Sycamore”, “Pairs/Planetree”). Clue #2 is that sycamore bark tends to be white/gray, while London Planetrees leans more toward cream/olive/light brown.
The tree in the photo is one of many mature sycamores on Salem St. Sycamores and London Planetrees line part of Clippership Dr along the parking lot at Riverside Ave and continuing up across from City Hall. Enjoy!
Submitted by Aggie Tuden, Medford Tree Warden