Content Detail

The sycamore is a grand, stately shade tree for a larger site. It has broad green leaves but is most recognizable by its peeling bark, which has patches of white and gray. Native to the Chicago region, sycamores have very high wildlife value, attracting a wide range of birds that use the tree for many purposes. This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Sycamore; planetree
  • Family (botanic) Platanaceae
  • Planting site City parkway, Residential and parks, Wide median
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 75-100 feet
  • Mature width 50-70 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Alkaline soil, Wet soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, clay soil, Occasional flooding, Road salt, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, late winter, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Broad, Irregular, Pyramidal, Round
  • Growth rate Fast
  • Transplants well Yes
  • Planting considerations Messy fruit/plant parts
  • Wildlife Birds, Insect pollinators, Small mammals
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat: 

Native to the eastern United States along rivers and streams and rich bottomlands. Occasionally grows in upland sites. C-Value: 9.  

Bark color and texture: 

Unique, gray-brown flaky scales shed to expose mottled peeling patches of white, gray, and green. Trees become nearly white near the top. Sycamore has an attractive mottled bark.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture: 

The alternate leaves are 4 to 9 inches wide and leathery. The leaves have 3 to 5 lobes, similar to maple. The leaf surface is bright green and paler underneath and the margins are broadly toothed. Fall color is brown.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size: 

Monoecious, with separate male and female flowers on the same tree. Flowers appear in early spring with the leaves as dense globose balls on long stalks (peduncles). Male flowers are green, females are showier, a bright burgundy-red. Not ornamentally important .

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions: 

A singular, 1 inch, ball-like seed head hangs from a long stalk. Seeds shatter during winter months.


Plant Care:

Sycamore grows best in moist, deep, and rich well-drained soil in full sun. This tree does not tolerate shady sites. Adaptable to a range of soil pH and moderately salt tolerant. Do not grow sycamore near septic fields. Can be a messy tree since it drops leaves, twigs, and fruit.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

Can be affected by anthracnose, leafspots, aphids, plant bug, scale insects, bagworm, and borers. Also susceptible to frost cracks. Tolerant of black walnut toxicity. Tolerant of high pH soil.



Your support is vital to the Arboretum, where the power of trees makes a positive impact on people’s lives.

Make a gift