Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Platanus occidentalis
SPECIES: Platanus occidentalis
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION:
Sullivan, Janet. 1994. Platanus occidentalis. In: Fire Effects Information
System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain
Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
Updates: On 20 March 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS
from: sycamore to: American sycamore. Images were also added.
Platanus occidentalis var. attenuata (Fern.) Sarg. 
SCS PLANT CODE:
The scientific name for American sycamore is Platanus occidentalis L.
(Platanaceae) [13,35,48,50]. There are no accepted infrataxa.
The London plane tree (P. xacerifolia [Ait.] Willd.) is a hybrid of
Oriental plane (P. orientalis) and American sycamore and perhaps includes a
number of backcrosses [50,78].
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:
No special status
American sycamore is listed by the State of Maine as a species of special
concern-possibly extirpated .
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Platanus occidentalis
The range of American sycamore extends from southwestern Maine west to extreme
southern Ontario, southern Wisconsin, Iowa, and extreme eastern
Nebraska; south to south-central Texas; and east to northwestern Florida
and southeastern Georgia. It also occurs in the mountains of
northeastern Mexico [30,35,50]. American sycamore has become naturalized to some
extent from plantations outside of its native range, chiefly in southern
Maine, southern Michigan, southern Minnesota, and eastern and southern
|Distribution of American sycamore. 1971 USDA, Forest Service map digitized by Thompson and others .
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
AL AR CT DE FL GA HI IA IL IN
KS KY LA MD ME MA MI MN MO MS
NE NC NH NJ NY OH OK PA RI SC
TN VA VT WV WI ON MEXICO
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS:
14 Great Plains
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
K098 Northern floodplain forest
K099 Maple - basswood forest
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K101 Elm - ash forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
SAF COVER TYPES:
23 Eastern hemlock
24 Hemlock - yellow birch
25 Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
26 Sugar maple - basswood
27 Sugar maple
37 Northern white-cedar
39 Black ash - American elm - red maple
60 Beech - sugar maple
61 River birch - sycamore
62 Silver maple - American elm
65 Pin oak - sweetgum
87 Sweetgum - yellow-poplar
91 Swamp chestnut oak - cherrybark oak
92 Sweetgum - willow oak
93 Sugarberry - American elm - green ash
94 Sycamore - sweetgum - American elm
95 Black willow
96 Overcup oak - water hickory
97 Atlantic white-cedar
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES:
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:
American sycamore is found in quantity only in bottomland forests, particularly
of elm-ash-cottonwood (Ulmus spp.-Fraxinus spp.-Populus deltoides) types
as defined by Shifley and others , and cottonwood-willow (Salix
spp.) types. It usually occurs singly or in small groups .
American sycamore is found occasionally along intermittent streams within upland
stands of oak-hickory (Quercus spp.-Carya spp.) communities. It is a
major pioneer species in the floodplains of large rivers . In the
Southeast pure stands of 40 to 100 acres (16-40 ha) are sometimes
formed; it rarely forms extensive pure stands in the northern parts of
its range . In the northern states American sycamore is rarely the dominant
species; it increases (replacing silver maple [Acer saccharinum]) with
decreasing latitude .
American sycamore is listed as a dominant or indicator species in the following
1) The natural forests of Maryland: an explanation of the vegetation map
of Maryland 
2) The natural communities of South Carolina 
3) Land Classification in the Blue Ridge province: state-of-the-science
4) Forest management of floodplain sites in the northeastern United
5) Management of bottomland hardwoods 
6) Ecological communities of New York State 
7) Classification and evaluation of forest sites on the northern Cumberland
8) Classification and evaluation of forest sites on the Natchez Trace State
Forest, State Resort Park, and Wildlife Management Area in west
SPECIES: Platanus occidentalis
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE:
American sycamore is a valuable timber tree; its wood is hard, with a twisted and
coarse grain, but not very strong [13,30,76]. It is used for furniture,
interior trim, boxes, pulpwood, and particle and fiber board [13,30]. Carey
and Gill  rated American sycamore as only fair (their lowest rating) for
American sycamore is planted in short-rotation intensive culture systems for use
as fuel or pulp [72,78].
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE:
American sycamore does not provide much food for wildlife, although the seeds are
eaten by some birds including the purple finch [82,84], goldfinch,
chickadees, and dark-eyed junco , and by muskrat, beaver, and
squirrels [13,76,82,84]. American sycamore is rated as medium in suitability for
waterfowl habitat and low in suitability as deer or turkey food .
Carey and Gill  rated American sycamore as only fair (their lowest rating)
for wildlife use. In Arkansas, American sycamore is of minor importance as deer
browse . As American sycamores age, they may develop hollow trunks which
provide shelter for a number of wildlife species; some large, old
individuals have formed cavities large enough to be used as dens by
black bear . Cavity nesting birds include the barred owl ,
eastern screech-owl, great crested flycatcher , and chimney swift
. Wood duck use American sycamores as nest trees .
The bottomland forests in which American sycamore occurs are very important
wildlife habitat, sheltering numerous animal species including wood
duck, other waterfowl, upland game birds, and deer . In Indiana,
riparian forests in which American sycamore occurs are important habitat for the
endangered Indiana bat, which uses these areas for nursery colonies
The nutritional value of American sycamore "grab samples" was reported as
follows: 25 percent dry matter, 13.7 percent crude protein, and 67
percent total digestible nutrients . Foliage samples were 18.2
percent lignin, 2.67 percent calcium, 0.38 percent magnesium, 0.12
percent phosphorus, and 1.65 percent potassium .
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
American sycamore occurs naturally on disturbed sites if there is sufficient
moisture for seedling establishment. It occasionally occurs in mostly
pure, well-stocked stands on naturally regenerated strip-mined lands in
the central states. In Missouri, it is often found in pure stands or in
mixtures with other hardwoods that pioneer on spoil banks. In Alabama
and Tennessee, waterway disposal sites (material removed from stream
channels) seeded with grass mixtures were invaded by American sycamore . In
Tennessee, channelization projects resulting in degrading streambanks
were colonized by American sycamores during the early recovery period .
American sycamore saplings were present in small numbers on unreclaimed limestone
quarries in Oklahoma .
Between 1928 and 1975, American sycamore was one of the 10 most commonly planted
hardwoods on surface-mined soils in Indiana . American sycamore is
recommended for planting on all types of strip-mined land in many
northeastern and central states . In Florida, American sycamore was planted
on a phosphate mine site for a wetland reclamation project . In
Tennessee, beaver impoundments were drained and planted with American sycamore;
American sycamore was chosen for its ability to tolerate saturated soils .
OTHER USES AND VALUES:
American sycamore is planted as a street tree , although it is highly
susceptible to ozone damage  and is susceptible to foliar injury and
reduced growth when exposed to salt spray . The London plane tree
is more resistant to air pollutants and is more commonly planted as a
street tree .
American sycamore has been planted in shelterbelts .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
American sycamore is a valuable timber species that can be regenerated from
natural seed sources, by planting, or by coppice systems.
Seed: American sycamore invades bottomland old fields when adequate seed
sources are present [3,59]. It often seeds in on clearcuts; good
initial establishment from natural seed sources requires some site
preparation . Its potential for establishment from direct seeding
is unknown .
Plantation: American sycamore usually shows good initial capture of planting
sites . American sycamores interplanted with herbaceous legumes were larger
than control plants 6 years after legume establishment . On mined
sites interplanting American sycamore with the nitrogen-fixing European black
alder (Alnus glutinosa) doubled American sycamore height and diameter growth over
that of control plants . Site characteristics, rather than site
preparation method, had the most pronounced effect on American sycamore height
growth . However, Hunt and Cleveland  reported American sycamore growing
on disc-cultivated sites showed better growth than with other
treatments. American sycamore does not establish well in dense herb or shrub
cover . Clatterbuck and Burkhardt  reported on the effects of
various mixtures and spacings for cherrybark oak (Quercus falcata) and
American sycamore plantations in Arkansas.
Coppice: For short-rotation intensive culture systems, American sycamore yield
is influenced by site, fertilizer, spacing, and rotation . American sycamore
has good coppice regeneration potential although it may not be
sustainable over many rotations. Geyer  reported that American sycamore died
after two coppice harvests in Kansas. A high percentage of stumps
sprout, regardless of stump size or time of harvest. However, dormant
season cuts produce larger and heavier sprout clumps than cuts during
the growing season [5,78].
Insects and Diseases: Natural stands of American sycamore have few lethal
diseases ; disease problems occur mostly in plantations. Important
diseases include anthracnose and eastern mistletoe (Phoradendron spp.)
. There have been some reports of a potentially serious disease of
American sycamore in Illinois and adjacent states, and possibly spreading to
Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. This disease has been
attributed to attacks by various organisms on environmentally stressed
trees; it is not attributed to a single cause . There are no
insects of economic importance in natural stands, although problems with
insects occur in landscaping trees .
Large American sycamores sometimes develop wind shake, a wood defect that reduces
its economic value . American sycamore is susceptible to ice damage
; of six trees examined after an ice/sleet storm in Missouri and
Illinois, only one escaped major damage .
Under powerlines, American sycamore regrowth was appreciably reduced with
pressure-injected malic hydrazide or daminozide .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Platanus occidentalis
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
American sycamore is a native, deciduous tree. Although not the tallest, it is
among the tallest trees of eastern deciduous forests . Mature
heights range from 60 to 120 feet (18-37 m) [9,83]. Reported diameters
range from 2 to 6.6 feet (0.6-2 m) . The bark of young trunks has
small scales. Bark at the base of large trunks is deeply furrowed and
up to 3 inches thick (7.6 cm) ; on the upper portions of the trunk
the bark exfoliates in patches, leaving areas of inner bark exposed
[30,78]. The leaves are 4 to 10 inches (10-25.4 cm) long, often as
broad or broader than they are long . American sycamores form widespread,
strongly branched root systems . The fruit is a plumed achene ;
numerous fruits are tightly aggregated into a ball-shaped fruiting head
0.8 to 2 inches (2-5 cm) in diameter [9,13].
American sycamore is characterized by rapid growth throughout its life; it is
also long lived (over 250 years) .
A American sycamore measuring 140 feet (43 m) tall and 120 inches (305 cm) dbh
has been reported; a specimen from Indiana was reported as 168 feet (51
m) tall and 33 feet (10 m) in circumference. Open-grown individuals can
achieve a crown spread of 100 feet (30 m) or more . A survey of big
trees in seven mid-southern states reported that the second and fourth
largest trees (of all species) were American sycamores. The largest American sycamore in
these states was a Tennessee tree 140 feet tall (42.67 m) and 65.9
inches (167.4 cm) dbh, with a circumference of 207 inches (525.8 cm),
the largest circumference of any tree in these states .
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM:
American sycamore is monoecious. Plantation-grown American sycamores are usually sexually
mature in 6 to 7 years. Natural stands of American sycamore usually produce
appreciable numbers of seed at approximately 25 years; optimum seed
production occurs from 50 to 200 years of age. Seed production is not
dependable from trees over 250 years old. Good seed crops are produced
every 1 to 2 years . American sycamore seeds are dispersed by wind and water
. They have a relatively rapid rate of descent for light seeds; the
estimated lateral travel distance in a 6 mile per hour (10 km/hr) breeze
is 223.7 feet (62.8 m) . Since seed dispersal occurs at a time of
year when water levels are declining after spring floods, water
dispersal often results in seed deposition on muddy flats that are
highly conducive to germination [44,83].
American sycamore seeds do not require any pretreatment for good germination .
They do require very moist conditions for good germination and are
tolerant of inundation . Soaking seeds in water for up to 32 days
did not reduce germination rates; the seeds did not germinate during the
soaking period . American sycamore seeds germinated at a significantly
higher percentage in light than in dark ; they do not germinate well
in heavy litter or in deep shade . American sycamore seeds did not germinate
in laboratory tests at temperatures lower than 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15
deg C); they germinated well at temperatures between 59 and 86 degrees
Fahrenheit (15-30 deg C), with maximum emergence at 68 degrees
Fahrenheit (20 deg C) in the wetter part of a moisture gradient .
American sycamore seedlings require direct sunlight for good growth and
establishment . At the end of their first year, American sycamore seedlings
on clay soil showed better height growth in partial shade than in full
sun. On alluvial soil or loess, height growth was better in full sun
. Seedling roots penetrate the soil quickly and grow deeper in loess
soils than in alluvial or clay soils .
Young American sycamore stems sprout readily from the stump; American sycamore is not a
vigorous epicormic sprouter. American sycamore can be vegetatively propagated by
American sycamore is primarily a species of alluvial soils along streams and in
bottomlands, but occurs occasionally as a pioneer on drier upland slopes
[13,30.78]. It occurs on a wide variety of soils, including both sands
and clays . Its best growth occurs on sandy loams or loams with a
good supply of ground water but it also occurs on wet muck, shallow peat
and other, more poorly drained bottomland soils .
American sycamore occurs on a variety of wet sites, including shallow swamps,
sloughs, and very wet riverbottoms where soil is saturated 2 to 4
months during the growing season . American sycamore seedlings survived
almost 2 months of continuously waterlogged soils . In a greenhouse
experiment, after experiencing 60 days of completely waterlogged soils,
about half of current-year seedlings died shortly after their removal
from the water; none died with shorter treatment periods . American sycamore
is more tolerant of poorly drained soils in the northern parts of its
range. It was given an adaptation value of 7.5 (out of a maximum of 10)
for moisture tolerance . American sycamore has a recommended lower pH range
of 4.0 to 4.5 
American sycamore is rated as moderately tolerant of flooding. In the Northeast,
American sycamore occurs on sites with greater than 98 percent probability of
flooding in any given year . In Illinois, sites that experience
flooding approximately 3 months of the year are dominated by silver
maple, American sycamore, and green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica var. lanceolata).
These sites are usually flooded before the growing season; American sycamore is
intolerant of flooding during the growing season and will die if the
entire tree is inundated for more than 2 weeks . Saplings may be
more resilient than mature trees due to their higher sprouting capacity;
Baker  reported that even though 4 weeks of flooding appeared to have
killed 65 percent of American sycamore saplings, 90 percent of the saplings were
alive at the end of one growing season following flooding. Most of them
had only been top-killed and subsequently sprouted from the root crown
. Seedlings are less tolerant of flooding than larger plants simply
because they are more likely to be completely covered by water during
active growth. Only 28.8 percent of American sycamore seedlings survived
complete inundation for 5 days during a June flood as compared to a
survival rate of 88.9 percent for unflooded seedlings .
The elevational range of American sycamore extends from sea level to 1,000 feet
(305 m) in the northern parts of its range and to 2,500 feet (762 m) in
the southern Appalachians [13,78].
American sycamore is intolerant of shade. Seedling growth is greatly reduced in
deep shade (defined as 5 percent of full sunlight) . American sycamore
occurs in forest types that are pioneer, transitional, subclimax, and
American sycamore pioneers on sand and gravel bars and other newly formed
land, often persisting through later seres, such as sugar maple (Acer
saccharum)-bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis), particularly on wet
sites . It is an occasional pioneer on upland oldfield sites,
particularly in the central parts of its range. In Illinois, American sycamore
was the most common tree species present in the seed rain or as
seedlings in local old fields .
In southern Illinois, 1- to 5-year-old American sycamore seedlings were most
common on newly formed land, then on old fields, in cottonwood-willow
communities, and in soft mixed-hardwoods (elms, ashes, birches [Betula
spp.], silver maple, and red maple [Acer rubrum]); there were no
seedlings present in hard mixed-hardwood communities (oaks and
hickories) . American sycamore usually replaces willows (Salix spp.) and
eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides). The American sycamore-sweetgum-American
elm type usually succeeds cottonwood on river fronts, but may pioneer on
heavily cutover sites or old fields in bottomlands. This type may
persist as a subclimax type where repeated disturbances such as flooding
occur. It is usually succeeded by swamp chestnut oak (Quercus
michauxii)-cherrybark oak or sweetgum-willow oak (Liquidambar
styraciflua-Q. phellos) . In the North Carolina Piedmont, American sycamore
and river birch (Betula nigra) usually replace alders (Alnus spp.) and
willows on small islands or spits in streams after the land becomes
stable and moderately well drained . American sycamore and river birch are
usually followed by elms (Ulmus spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.) and red maple
. In Kentucky, an island that formed in 1913 was occupied by a pure
stand of eastern cottonwood 30 to 40 feet tall by 1922. Trees coming in
among the cottonwoods included American sycamores .
The presence of American sycamore in upland climax forests may be a function of
disturbance rather than a function of moisture or drainage regime; its
establishment in these woods may require larger disturbances than those
produced by single or multiple tree falls .
American sycamore flowers appear in May in the northern parts of its range, and
as early as late March in the South. Late spring frosts will kill
flowers, leaves, and twigs . The fruits ripen from September to
October or November, and usually remain on the tree over winter,
breaking up or falling off the following spring from February through
SPECIES: Platanus occidentalis
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS:
American sycamore is a member of bottomland hardwood communities that do not
usually experience crown fires. Fire returns approximately every
5 to 8 years; summer droughts extended into fall create conditions for
ground and surface fires that can cause damage and mortality.
Bottomland fires usually move rapidly along the surface, consuming
shrubs and herbs and usually killing all tree reproduction under about
10 years of age. Larger trees suffer bark scorch, which causes wounds
that create points of entry for rots, stains, and insects; this results
in reduced vigor and delayed mortality. Under extreme fire conditions,
large trees may be killed outright .
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY:
Tree with adventitious-bud root crown/soboliferous species root sucker
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed
SPECIES: Platanus occidentalis
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT:
Surface fires in the bottomland forests in which American sycamore occurs readily
kill saplings and seedlings of all species. Larger trees are wounded by
fire; fire wounds act as vectors of disease, increasing rot and
decreasing plant vigor [57,61].
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT:
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE:
American sycamore is unlikely to be a major pioneer on burned sites. On
bottomlands, rapid growth of competing weeds and vines would reduce
American sycamore establishment, and burned upland sites are usually too dry for
good seedling establishment. Only one published report of American sycamore
seedlings on a burned site is available. In North Carolina, an oldfield
loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) stand experienced both surface and crown
fire. American sycamore seedlings were present in small numbers on the crown
fire plots, indicating that moisture and light conditions were
sufficient for American sycamore seedling establishment . Top-killed
American sycamore will sprout; it is unlikely, however, that a fire severe enough
to kill the aboveground portions will not also kill the shallow roots.
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE:
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
In the Southeast, the usual fire season is fall; fire years occur
when the usual summer drought extends into autumn and early winter.
Most fires are accidentally caused by humans .
Prescribed fire is not recommended for southeastern bottomland forests
in which American sycamore occurs; aside from damaging and killing trees, fire
reduces soil organic layers, leading to site degradation. Following
fire, weeds and vines flourish on exposed sites, increasing competition
with tree seedlings that may establish after fire [57,61].
American sycamore had a significantly lower proportion of its stem weight in bark
than any of the other species tested. In the soft hardwoods group (red
maple, sweetgum, American sycamore, and yellow-poplar [Liriodendron tulipifera]),
American sycamore had the highest average total-tree moisture content of any
species tested . A formula to estimate recoverable heat energy in
wood or bark fuels is available .
SPECIES: Platanus occidentalis
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