The Sycamore is one of Britain’s most widely planted deciduous trees. A member of
the Maple family, the Sycamore is native to central and southern Europe and the
Sycamores are very imposing when old, their stout trunks and branches bearing a
great canopy of leaves. They are extremely pollution tolerant and can withstand all
kinds of weather and soil conditions. Part of the Latin name, Acer pseudoplatanus,
means ‘false plane’ and there is confusion in identifying Sycamores and Plane trees.
The Americans and the Scots call their Plane tree ‘Sycamore’ and our Sycamore
‘Plane’. The leaves of both trees look similar, but the fruits are quite different and so
is the bark. Sycamores have distinctive winged seeds commonly referred to as ‘keys’,
while the fruits of plane trees are brown hairy balls. Similarly the bark of the
sycamore is grey, developing a pinkish tinge with age, while the bark of the plane
tree flakes to reveal a lighter colour underneath. Sycamore leaves are lobed, dark
green on top with pale undersides. The stems are red at the outset but change to
green and pink and are arranged alternately along the stem. The flowers appear with
the leaves in April.
Many trees were originally planted in farmyards, as their luxuriant summer foliage
provides livestock with welcome and cooling shade. The timber is very hard and
white and is used to make bread-boards, rolling pins, kitchen tables and work-tops
which keep their whiteness after scrubbing. They are used to make the backs, necks
and scrolls of violins.
In January 1567, Mary Queen of Scots is said to have nursed her husband, Lord
Darnley, back to health beneath a Sycamore tree (Plane Tree in Scots) at Darnley in

Tree Trail Stop 5: Sycamore